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How we handle the assembly of goods waiting to be shipped determines to a large extent the efficiency of the whole process. Speed, accuracy – these are just some of the advantages of efficient picking. What is it all about and how to prepare for it?

Logistics and distribution centres and warehouses play an increasingly important role in the modern economy. Most of these facilities have extensive space for stacking and storing goods, which is why fast identification of the place where goods are stored, efficient means of internal transport and the possibility of quick assembly of goods are essential for the proper functioning of such facilities,” says Rafał Maciejewski, President of the Management Board of IT PiAST.

Assembly or order picking is one of the key activities related not only to the preparation of goods for transport but also, for example, parts for production. The process is generally based on finding the ordered goods and then preparing them for production or shipment.

Order picking is a labour-intensive activity, and if done manually, it can generate a large number of errors.

One of the important parameters for assessing the effectiveness of assembly is its accuracy, which is especially important in the case of the assembly of components on production lines. Particularly when we are dealing with a finished product consisting of hundreds or even thousands of small parts (e.g. in the automotive industry). While in a traditional warehouse the order picking accuracy of 99.98% is usually sufficient, and possible deficiencies can be realized in subsequent picking or shipment, the production aims to eliminate mistakes almost completely.

Any error by the picking zone operator or any delay that occurs in the picking zone can have severe consequences for the entire production or distribution process. The picking operation has the greatest impact on the cost of a given product. For economic reasons, the key in the design of the picking process is to analyze the movement of goods in the facility, which is necessary to carry out the work related to the selection and picking of units.

The way in which orders are processed also has an impact on the organization of the warehouse. In many cases, order picking is carried out with the use of specialized tools, e.g. picking trucks or scanners and readers. Increasing competition has put a lot of pressure on speeding up the picking process and limiting possible mistakes to an absolute minimum. A number of technical and organizational solutions are being developed to facilitate the transfer of information between the warehouse dispatcher and the order picker.

The picking zone is generally speaking the space in the warehouse dedicated to picking of stocks and grouping them into new sets according to the recipient’s order.

With regard to the level on which picking takes place, three types of processes can be distinguished: low, medium and high level. In all cases, safety and reliability are important, and one of the most important factors that users pay attention to is the efficiency of work, closely linked to ergonomics. Ergonomics is also linked to e.g. control systems for order picking trucks.

The possibility of installing and connecting the PC and the scanner in appropriate places is also important. Specialists emphasize that it is worth investing in proven and efficient equipment with the right service support. This is what can reduce total operating expenses (including damage, downtime and operator costs).

Rafał Pańczyk, Advanced Applications Manager at STILL Polska emphasizes in the trade press that customers are willing to invest in advanced logistics solutions if their application is profitable and the return on investment is quite fast.

The increasing popularity of picking trucks is due to the increase in the price of warehouse space. Such solutions are particularly popular where space is expensive or not readily available. In such a situation, it is economically justified to expand the racks upwards and to equip the warehouse with compatible transport equipment,” says Pańczyk.

Warehouse operators point out that especially during intensive picking operations, e.g. before Christmas, a fast and efficient picking truck is essential. When purchasing, the following key parameters should be taken into account: ergonomics of the operator’s station, ease of use (steering), usable functionality (equipment useful in picking), safety of the operator and other people working simultaneously in the picking warehouse, or the reliability of the most important components.

Since most workplace accidents are caused by human error, the highest level of safety in picking can be assured by the implementation of fully automated transport systems.

If the scale of operations does not justify this type of investment, the number of unwanted incidents can be reduced with semi-automated solutions. An example is the Optispeed system included as standard on the MX-X stacker truck. Originally, the software was used to automatically limit the speed when transporting goods. The system allowed to increase the safety of driving without the need for permanent blocking of higher speed. Its latest version allows for continuous measurement of cargo weight on forks with an accuracy of up to 50 kg and smooth modification of speed depending on the weight of the transported goods and the level at which the forks are located. Implementation of the system reduces the time of performing particular tasks by 15-30%.

To assess the quality of picking we can use one of the indicators used for warehouse evaluation.

Among the tools commonly used to evaluate the performance of a warehouse are Key Performance Indicators. They make it possible to determine in a simple and transparent way the quality of warehouse processes and their economic condition or to indicate areas requiring improvement. The ability to refer to historical KPI values allows you to verify the changes introduced in the warehouse, as well as to track trends. The choice of specific performance indicators should depend on the purpose of a given warehouse. It is important that the purpose of using the KPI is not to try to monitor everything, but to exercise better control over the most important aspects of the operation of a given warehouse,” says Marek Wiązowski (Quantum Software).

Among them, he lists the average number of items in an order, which makes it possible to determine whether orders with a large or small number of items predominate within the warehouse. This directly impacts the lead time and the number of assembled orders per day. The indicator is important when calculating the costs of order processing.

We calculate it according to the following formula: Average number of items in an order = number of items issued / number of processed orders.

Another indicator listed by the Quantum Software representative is the average number of items issued per warehouse operator (it determines the efficiency of warehouse employees; a higher number of items issued per employee means lower costs of order processing; the indicator helps to determine the optimum number of warehouse employees).

It is calculated according to the following formula: average number of items issued by a warehouse operator = number of items issued / number of warehouse operators.

There is also an indicator that determines the picking accuracy, which evaluates the quality of the picking process (the best warehouses in this respect reach values above 99.9%). A low level of this KPI implies an increase in costs related to corrections and complaints.

The indicator can be calculated according to the following formula: picking accuracy = number of correctly assembled orders / total number of assembled orders.

Photo: Mecalux

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