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Order Picking: Traditional vs. Intelligent Fulfillment Methods

Warehouse managers worldwide are debating the best way to pick orders and pack shipments. While some defend traditional methods, others are quick to point out the advantages of intelligent fulfillment tools. So which is better? Read on to learn about the advantages and disadvantages of traditional versus intelligent pick and pack processes.

Traditional Fulfillment Methods

The traditional method of order picking involves using paper sales orders to retrieve items from shelves. Workers print orders from a warehouse management system (WMS) or enterprise resource planning (ERP) software. Pickers move through zones and typically have a fixed process they follow to retrieve items.

One of the biggest advantages of traditional picking methods is that companies don't have to invest in pricey technology, as traditional picking doesn't rely on continual system upgrades to keep software running efficiently.

However, the top disadvantage is that it can lead to an increase in order mistakes due to human error. Also, larger warehouse operations may find that traditional picking methods take too long and increase shipping and delivery times. Lastly, when a problem does occur, there are fewer ways to identify accountability. Tracking the source of the issue can be difficult and costly.

Intelligent Fulfillment Methods

There are a range of intelligent fulfillment methods available for warehouses. Business owners may select a single method or may use multiple technologies to support their supply chain operations.

Common intelligent fulfillment methods include:

  • Voice picking:
    An operator instructs workers on where to find items on shelves using headsets, microphones, and a software interface.
  • Radio-frequency picking:
    Workers use portable or truck-mounted devices that scan barcodes. These systems collect real-time data as information is sent to the WMS or ERP system.
  • Pick-to-light:
    This order picking method involves using light displays on warehouse shelves and storage racks that indicate where order fulfillment items are located.
  • Radio-frequency visual picking:
    Workers have handheld RF devices that display visuals of items along with enhanced picking instructions.

Weighing the Pros and Cons

To summarize, intelligent order picking methods improve processes by providing better accuracy and productivity. Workers are sent to the right picking zones and can efficiently pack orders, allowing warehouses to meet aggressive shipping deadlines. However, the costs of purchasing and implementing such technology can range from $100,000 for radio-frequency order fulfillment systems to $425,000 for pick-to-light systems. These prices can push such technologies out of the hands of smaller warehouse operations.

As you decide which order picking strategy to adopt, focus on the needs of your warehouse. Make your decision based on current order fulfillment accuracy, pain points, productivity, warehouse software and system capabilities, budget, and cost.

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