As the way Britain shops changes remorselessly towards cyber shopping and away from bricks and mortar retail outlets the need for top line order picking systems becomes even more crucial. Those companies, however, which ignore the key requirement for versatility in selecting order picking systems will pay a heavy price when business circumstances change.

Before any investment exercise can be undertaken, the investor must know his existing order picking costs accurately. Many operators, however, do not know these costs though most users of manually-operated picking systems have a reasonable idea.

When picking speed and accuracy are of the essence then the case for partial or full automation beckons. But something else also beckons: the need to factor in future business process changes. This is particularly crucial in voice picking systems. There have been disappointments with voice recognition order picking partly because users fell into the trap of buying a voice solution built  to fit their business. Specifying a bespoke system may sound sensible but a fixed or point solution is just that – fixed and can only be modified at a cost and over time. Even simple changes can be costly. Another mistake can be to specify a consumer-grade voice recognizer instead of industrial-grade recognizers.

Any product choice, therefore, must have adaptability so that its array of features makes change easy. There should also be portability and that means the product should use open standards and is engineered to be truly device independent. The voice solution must have scalability so it needs to have enterprise-level features supporting multiple operating systems.

Voice picking has two key attractions: higher productivity and near zero error rates. Returns from irate customers caused by mispicks is the highest cost irritation for any warehouse operation.  Paper-based picking, for example, can produce error rates of up to 4% and a 1% rise in picking errors could raise order fulfilment costs by up to 10%. Voice picking is also much cheaper to install than other picking systems like pick-to-light but the two can run side by side very effectively.

Take, for example, Halfords’ 320,000ft2 Coventry DC, the result of consolidating two regional DCs into a single centre despatching up to 200,000 items a day to its entire 470 stores across the UK and Ireland. Designed and installed by Dematic, it combines conveyors, picking technologies and an automated buffer that consolidates picked totes into store orders.

On the first level of the mezzanine, 3,600 SKUs of faster-moving small parts are picked from live storage lanes using fast, pick-to-light technology. The system’s simplicity allows 300 line picks per hour. The upper level of the small parts store houses 6,000 slower-moving SKUs, located on inclined shelves to allow for ergonomic picking. Here the picking method chosen is voice-based and allows 200 lines per hour to be picked. Working together, both picking systems have helped Halfords achieve the high throughputs required while improved tote fill has halved the number of totes each store receives in a delivery to 30.

Warehouse & Logistics News