By Steve Porter, Senior Systems Analyst at Linde Material Handling: The past 18 months in particular have seen customers making the most of the power of online shopping, ordering in much smaller quantities right to their front doors. More online shopping on a global scale is putting pressure on supply chains to get goods in and out of the warehouse quickly, and large e-commerce warehouses across the world are absorbing a huge amount of traditional warehousing staff.
And amidst the turbulent labour challenges presented by the pandemic and Brexit, it’s getting harder to rely on consistent staffing. If they want to keep up with customer demand, it’s essential that warehouses are equipped to cope with these new customer expectations. So, with that in mind, more and more businesses have begun to look to new solutions to ensure their order picking process is operating at optimal efficiency. So, why has this sparked a rise in automation products and goods to man picking? What benefits do voice picking and pick-to-light solutions also offer? And how can businesses find an order picking process that works best for them?
Automation and the rise of goods to man picking
As a result of the shift taking place throughout the supply chain world, we have seen a massive drive towards the demand for, and adoption of, automated solutions. Ultimately, AGVs make warehouse operations more streamlined by fulfilling simple transport from one point to the other at the press of a button. This removes workers from low-value and repetitive jobs, giving them more time to focus on higher-level tasks so it can boost employee development and morale.
Traditionally, warehouses have famously relied on man to goods picking. Now, with the advent of new technologies, the process of an employee retrieving goods is becoming one of the options, rather than the natural ‘first’ choice. More businesses are moving towards goods to man picking and designated picking stations, combining automation technology with human picking. With a massive rise in the demand for goods to person picking, we’re expecting to see more AMR’s (autonomous mobile robots) too. Instead of someone going around the warehouse to pick the goods, these units will travel around the warehouse collecting goods and taking them to a picking station where they can be collected. So, the product keeps coming to the warehouse employee, not the other way around.
The role of pick to light and voice picking solutions
Amidst the rise of goods to man picking, pick to light is a paperless solution which has become increasingly a viable option within the modern warehouse. Employees at picking stations are guided by an alphanumeric display which lights up and guides them through the process – from picking to assembling. This is, therefore, an effective way to lower labour costs and streamline the entire process of a picking station whilst working in sync with AGVs.
For those warehouses working with a man to goods approach, voice picking can bolster the productivity of operations by telling warehouse staff exactly where to go and what to do – allowing managers to easily keep track of these interactions and view progress. It’s an aid to error free picking as these systems won’t let you move on until you’ve got each item. However, the best thing about voice picking is its impact on pick rate. On average, it has been found to improve pick rate by an impressive 10%. And they can help make operations safer too. With operators able to use a voice-directed hands-free system, they can be even more aware of their surroundings and avoid accidents.
Get your order pickers right
Whatever your preferred method of order picking, developing a clear roadmap needs to be high on the agenda for any company that wants to emerge from the pandemic thriving. Those who don’t will struggle to keep up with the demands being placed on them by consumers with higher expectations than ever before.
At Linde Material Handling we try our best to help customers understand what is best suited to them. We use trucks with a modular design for its picking devices, in order to help to minimise physical strain on the driver and increase the efficiency of the picking process in any working environment. From our Linde V10 vertical order picker to our picker N20 C L, Linde is constantly developing its order pickers, aiming to make working conditions even safer and more ergonomic for the operator.