Ask any warehouse manager, “what is the most difficult cost to control?” and the answer will invariably be manpower. Manpower costs form the largest chunk of a warehouse’s operating expenses. With the recent spike in wages across the region, from Cambodia to China, that percentage can only increase.
How can companies manage the wage costs in this environment? By targeting those activities that are labour intensive. Within the warehouse, order picking accounts for the biggest warehouse manpower headcount and budget. The ability to process customer orders quickly and accurately also has a direct impact on customer satisfaction.
There is a swathe of storage solutions to help companies pick orders quickly, efficiently and accurately. At the top end are fully automated order picking systems capable of picking up to 50,000 items per hour which can raise productivity of fast turnaround items by more than 400%.
Reliable even at peak loads, they are ideal for companies who have to handle thousands of packages each day, like China’s booming e-commerce businesses which are rolling out warehouses across the country to support their businesses but are finding difficulties employing staff willing to work in them.
But not everyone requires top of the range solutions, neither is it appropriate for all operations. There is a range of semi-automated solutions designed to handle the different product categories – slow movers, fast movers and those in between. Any company which has 2,000 different products, processes over 1,000 orders per day, can benefit from their adoption.
Here’s a sampling of time-tested technologies available:
Pick-by-light: Designed for operations with a small range of fast movers, it speeds up the pick process by directing the operator’s attention to the requisite tote by light.
Pick-by-voice: The voice-directed system frees the operator’s hands to concentrate on order picking resulting in increased pick quality and speed.
Mobile picking: Great for batch picking, it consolidates the picking process in batches, enabling the operator to pick required quantities for different orders, drastically reducing the time operators’ spent walking back and forth.
Goods-to-man: With items delivered to order pickers at their workstations, goods-to-man systems which come in a variety of forms and configurations can boost pick rates by 1,000 lines per hour independent of the number of SKUs and order profile.
As any distribution centre will have products that fall in the different categories, a combination of technologies is often needed for greater efficiency. There are some items which are picked once a day or even once a week. Companies will have to take a good hard look at the order profile to decide which is best suited for their operation.