Order picking is the process of pulling items from inventory to fill a customer order. This takes place in a warehouse, and a company may use a variety of means to meet order picking needs. Employees who supervise this process do not need any special qualifications or training, as it is usually very straightforward. In some cases, it is entirely automated through the use of warehouse robots, and employees may not set foot on the warehouse floor unless there is a problem.
One order picking method requires sending an employee around the warehouse with an order list and a box or container. The picker pulls each item, following the most efficient route. In other warehouses, each worker is in charge of a section and pulls from her section to fill incoming orders. The box may move through several sections until the order is complete, often along a conveyor belt. Inventory robots can also perform picking tasks.
In piece picking, workers select items from open boxes or crates to fill small customer orders. A company selling books, for example, orders them by the case to stock the warehouse, but very few customers order a whole case of books at once. The company needs to open the cases to fill orders. Case or crate picking involves pulling full cases from inventory to fill orders, a common situation for wholesale warehouses sending goods to retailers. Companies can also use pallet picking, where whole pallets are pulled during the picking process for very large orders.
The order picking process includes a number of stages, from receiving the order to verifying the contents before closing the package and sending it out. Many companies rely on computer systems to streamline the process and also design their warehouses for maximum efficiency. Moving products that tend to be ordered together to the same area of the warehouse, for example, can cut down on the time needed to fill orders. This will allow the company to fill more orders, and to fill orders in a very timely fashion. Fast turnaround is expected by many customers.
Warehouse systems require periodic updates, and when a company gets ready to make changes to its warehouse, it may call on a consultant for advice. The consultant can evaluate standards and practices in the company and provide information on how to make order picking faster and more reliable. This may include adopting a new computer system, relying on more robots, or changing shelving layouts to make it easier for employees to pull what they need.