Order Picking Automation Options to Resolve Warehouse Labor Shortage Challenges

Jen Maloney
October 22, 2022
The Right Blend of Picking Technologies Reduces Labor, Increases Accuracy and Productivity Across the Entire Order Fulfillment Operation

Industry statistics show up to 50% of a distribution center’s labor resources are devoted to picking. The key to optimizing your warehouse operations and labor requirements is to reduce non-value-tasks such as reading, data entry and wasted walking and fork truck travel. 

The latest generation of picking technologies are only as good as the real-time warehouse execution and control systems (WES-WCS) directing them. 

With an abundance of choices, it is critical to evaluate processes matched to the warehouse’s operational needs, define the solution, and then select the right blend of software and technologies matched to your business needs and goals that will generate a compelling ROI.

Here is a short overview of order picking technologies to consider.

I. A Warehouse Pick-by-Voice System Cuts Labor & Improves Productivity

A pick-by-voice solution is a lean and simple solution requiring only 15 minutes of operator training.

It directs a worker’s movements by using voice commands and product barcode scanning for fast, consistent picking.

Pick-by-voice combines pick & pack validation into the first operator touch, eliminating secondary inspection and packing labor.

With an intelligent warehouse execution and control system (WCS-WES) managing the voice picking application pick path is automatically optimized, while the voice application ensures accuracy by directing operators to scan validate the location and item barcode with a voice message.

The best voice picking system takes the worker decisions out by enforcing uniform best practice work procedures throughout both the pick and pack process!

The latest voice picking software solutions are completely speaker-independent, support multiple languages and require minimal training and management mentoring time.

Employees significantly prefer working in DCs with voice picking technology compared to working in operations with paper-based or RF terminal picking processes. Higher employee satisfaction equates to better employee retention.

Multi-Modal Voice Picking

To achieve the highest productivity levels, voice picking should only be deployed in what is called a multimodal picking technology – a hands-free, eyes-focused picking technology.

A multimodal picking solution combines voice commands with hands-free camera-based barcode scan validation and a wearable wrist mount display to show the item number and quantity to pick with an image of the product.

Wearable computers with message displays and touch screen buttons to handle task changes and exception conditions add efficiency to the warehouse workers. Higher accuracy and quality are built into the process by showing the item and quantity to pick, resulting in an easy to learn system.

Our partner, Zebra Technologies, offers a line of rugged mobile computers that fully support multimodal picking.

Numina Group’s Victory Voice™ Suite offers the latest neural network voice recognizer for true “multimodal” order picking, yielding 99.9% picking accuracy and reducing pick and pack labor requirements by 50% or more in existing operations. It’s order release module includes order cartonization logic that combines pick and pack into a single step by directing picking into the right size shipping carton. Not only does this reduce packing labor but lowers packaging and parcel shipping costs by reducing the size and quantity of cartons used to fulfill orders!

Victory Voice offers a suite of software application modules that removes labor across each component of warehouse pick, pack, and ship operations.

Several clients have increased picking rates to 180 – 300 lines per hour in high velocity, properly SKU-slotted pick zones.

Voice picking is increasingly being combined with the latest generation robotic goods-to-person (G2P) picking and storage systems and AMR-based batch cart picking to obtain the highest picking productivity across all warehouse picking zones.

II. Goods-to-Person (G2P) Order Fulfillment Automation

Goods-to-person order fulfillment defines a broad array of systems used to automate the storage and retrieval of a product.

With this order picking method, warehouse automation technology moves, stores, and delivers products to the picker, eliminating walking and movement and increasing picking productivity to produce 250 to 350 picks per person.

Less walking along with ergonomic presentation of the goods achieves the industry’s highest picking productivity rates. In simple terms, products are automatically brought directly to the picker in order pick sequence, who then picks what is needed to fulfill customer orders.

An investment in a robotic goods-to-person system can increase picking speeds to offset labor costs and enable better utilization of facility space. Goods-to-person functionality can rapidly expand to meet these needs, making warehouse robotics more cost-effective.

III. Which G2P System is Best for Your Operation?

Choosing the right blend of picking technology is a complex decision with hundreds of warehouse robotic technologies to choose from. The first question is whether your order profile is a good fit for a G2P system?

Next, analyze the pros and cons of the various G2P systems, especially the increased performance and cost effectiveness of the latest generation of robotic goods to person technologies to assess which is the best solution for your mix of products, picking, and storage needs.

To ensure your business receives the full benefit of the G2P system, partner with an independent systems integrator to evaluate your operation and ensure that a G2P system is right for your operation.

It takes a knowledgeable partner and a design-first approach to analyze your mix of SKU sizes and velocity movement and determine which G2P Solution is best suited for your specific operations.

IV. Batch Picking with a Batch Cart, AMR, or Fork-Truck

Time is money and wasted travel time is one of the largest drains on warehouse profitability. 

You can reduce this costly problem by deploying an intelligent batch picking process, guided by technology, to select and execute order release and assignment based on the shortest travel path for a batch picking cart, mobile robot, or fork truck.

The process is controlled and directed by a WES-WCS transport path travel execution module that directs the batch cart, fork truck, or autonomous mobile robot (AMR) pick path to each pick location in sequence order.

If the warehouse is using AMRs, pickers are simultaneously directed in each aisle pick zone to meet the AMR and perform voice-directed picks to carton, as well as sweep single line order items to a tote using a speed pick process.

Batch order selection includes like-SKU order pick logic that reduces picker visits to the same location to increase line quantity picking during a storage bin visit and allows batch cart picking across a dozen or more orders simultaneously, resulting in over a 100% picking productivity gain compared to a discrete order picking process.

An independent systems integrator can define and design your warehouse future roadmap.

Create Your Future Roadmap to Warehouse Automation Success

If you are considering an automated warehouse system solution, our short Warehouse Automation Checklist can help you evaluate your current operation.

Download the Warehouse Automation Preparation Checklist

Numina Group is an independent software development and warehouse automation system integrator. We partner with your team to design and implement warehouse automation solutions. We review, compare and select the right blend of picking, packing, and shipping technologies to create an optimized warehouse automation solution for your entire order fulfillment operation.

We can help you choose the right blend of automation to increase productivity and scale your business, such as RDS™ warehouse automation software, voice picking technology, mobile warehouse robots, pick-to-light, put-to-light, goods-to-person (G2P) solutions, scan-weigh-dim automation, and print-and-apply labeling.

Our warehouse automation solutions are modular and scalable, and enable you to realize benefits that drive a rapid ROI. 

Ready to learn more? Contact the Numina Group today. 

We’re excited to invite you to join us at Modex 2022 Booth #B1813 to discover how we blend pick, pack, and ship automation that together drives the greatest gains in DC profitability. 

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