Balancing Work Across Multiple Pick Zones

Jennifer Maloney
April 30, 2020

The RDS™ Order Release Module balances the order mix across the split case and full case pick modules along with the order flow to the pack area, print-and-apply labeling, ship sorter and pallet build operations.

Does your DC have the right tools to manage the B2B and B2C customer delivery experience?

Today’s warehouse distribution operations are increasinlgy acting as online retail stores and shipping critical items, including laptop computers, electronics, HVAC components, and repair parts for both consumer and business customers. Their mission is to connect manufactured goods to the customer with a high percentage of same-day shipments. 

Today’s dynamics are influenced by several factors. COVID-19 is a disruptive force. In many cases, the DC’s potential workforce is fearful of contracting the virus, reducing the ability to attract new workers. 

As a result, many DCs are operating with a reduced staff and a higher demand for same-day order shipments. This creates pressure to optimize and prioritize orders that have priority shipments while balancing the picking tasks with a smaller labor pool. 

With more than three decades of experience in helping companies create leaner operations, Numina Group understands how DCs without the right automation tools are adversely impacted. 

We work with clients to identify operational constraints and develop an order fulfillment solution that optimizes order release to balance work across pick zones. 

The foundation of our solution is the Numina’s RDS™ WES-WCS warehouse automation solution, a warehouse execution and control system that includes automation software modules that manage the entire order release pick, pack, and ship order fulfillment process.

Identifying the Problem

A manual order release process that relies on tribal knowledge applied by staff cannot accurately and efficiently account for DC order picking rates within multiple pick zones.

Instead, it often results in too much work in certain zones and a lack of work in other zones. Overloaded zones with excessive orders result in worker congestion and picking conflicts with both batch cart-based and zone routing conveyor system picking automation systems. 

When conveyor zones become overloaded, the system becomes jammed and workers are forced to double-handle cartons and start and stop the conveyor, leading to inefficiency and higher chances of picking errors.

What are the Effects of Inefficient Picking?

Order picking is the costliest and most labor-intensive task in a warehouse’s four primary activities of receiving, storage, order picking, and shipping. 

Roughly half of order picking is still being processed manually because human operators are more responsive to changes and unique pick/packing instructions.

However, operators do not always perform flawlessly, especially in congested pick zones.

Relying on a manual, paper-based, or outdated wireless handheld barcode terminal to direct a discrete order picking process wastes time and drives up order processing time due to higher error rates and costs per shipment.

The above factors increase the demand to improve order flow and automate the operator movement and picking tasks.

Zone Picking

Zone picking, when managed with picking technology such as a pick-by-voice system that is designed to manage and optimize zone picking, will efficiently manage a mix of order types. 

Zone picking can manage several order types such as pick-to-carton orders and batch picking of single SKU orders at the same time. The zone picking process can reduce picking travel time and increase the operator’s pick per hour performance.

Order Consolidation

Orders that require SKUs picked from multiple zones need warehouse automation software to efficiently consolidate the picks originating from multiple zones at an order consolidation area. 

A put-to-light consolidation put wall shelf managed by the warehouse control system is a cost-effective and rapid means to consolidate the picks from across the warehouse and manage the packing operation.

How RDS WES-WCS Balances Work Across Pick Zones

RDS WES-WCS connects with your existing WMS or ERP system to bolt on more efficient order fulfillment processes, technologies, and material handling automation.

RDS includes pre-developed software modules to enable order release to prioritize critical shipments, and optimize workflow and operator pick and pack tasks, thus balancing picking tasks across multiple pick zones. This allows you to allocate labor efforts to where it’s needed most

How RDS Simplifies and Increases Picking Efficiencies:

  • RDS Voice – Directs workers to pick multiple orders in multiple zones, synchronized across the DC to reduce travel time in the most efficient pick path. 

  • Pick and Put to Light (PTL) – PTL can be used to pick in the high-velocity SKU zones in combination with voice picking. It is ideally suited to managing the put wall order consolidation for managing picks from multiple zones in a zone-based picking application.

  • Zebra Wearable Technology – The RDS order picking automation suite gets superior productivity and operator performance when the operator is equipped with the latest mobile wearable computers for directing hands-free picking and other warehouse activities, such as receiving, replenishment, and shipping consolidation tasks. Zebra’s enterprise-grade mobile and wearable computers equip workers with the right tools to streamline the entire order fulfillment operation.

  • Lower Cost of Ownership – Numina Group partners with Zebra to bring you affordable upgrades through the GO Zebra Trade-In Program, where you can trade in legacy devices from any manufacturer for cash rebates towards your upgrade.

Without controlling and balancing order release, worker inefficiency will result in higher missed priority same-day order shipments and poor customer satisfaction. 

Intelligent continuous or batch order release automation balances work across the DC to keep everyone busy and get last-minute orders out within shorter time windows. An Automation investment pays for itself with huge increases in productivity and accuracy.  

Experience the power of 99% order accuracy. Talk with our warehouse automation specialists today for a free assessment of your current workflows.