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The use of English expressions such as “batch picking” and “wave picking” is widely spread, even within non-English-speaking companies. However, before we delve deeper, we must emphasize the importance of picking. Picking is a critical and essential process in warehouses and distribution centers. It consists of retrieving items of each order from the shelves, assembling them, and packing them into cartons or pallets for shipment. Picking directly impacts the speed and efficiency of items delivery to customers. Therefore, an efficient picking process can help a company not only improve productivity and reduce costs but also enhance customer satisfaction.

Order picking is just as crucial for e-commerce companies as it is for traditional businesses. Poor picking management can lead to delivery delays and refund requests, which can harm the company’s reputation and finances.

Before we proceed: glossary

Below is a list of interchangeable expressions used in this blog article.

Picking: order picking – order preparation

Batch picking: picking in batches – group picking – bulk picking

Batch: lot

Picker: order picker – operator – stock worker – picker

Pick to Cart: Cart picking

Pick to Box: Box picking

PDA (Personal Digital Assistant): a small-sized device that combines the functionalities of a personal computer and a mobile phone.

There are different picking methods, each optimal in a specific context and catering to specific business needs. In this blog post, we will focus on the batch picking method.

Batch Picking Definition

Batch picking is the process of grouping multiple orders into a single batch for simultaneous preparation. This system is applied in the initial phase of order fulfillment. The key point of batch preparation is the picking list, which needs to be established in advance. This list groups items with the same reference but from different orders. The picker retrieves all the items that will be sorted by order in the packing module.

To better understand the batch picking method, let’s imagine you are out with a group of friends, and you all stop at a convenience store to buy soda. Some of you also want to buy biscuits and chocolate. In the traditional method of picking, each friend would go around the store to get their items. This method would create traffic in the aisles and take more time. If we apply batch picking in this situation, one person would be responsible for picking and distributing the sodas, chocolates, and biscuits.

Types of Batch Picking

There are different forms of batch picking, each maintaining its underlying principle.

Conventional Method:

The conventional method is the simplest form of batch picking. The picker only needs to collect all the products listed in the picking list as a single batch. Consolidation, packaging, and shipping will be done later in subsequent processes. Therefore, the conventional method only involves the task of collecting the items from their locations and sending them to the consolidation area.

The process proceeds as follows:

1- Retrieve all the products listed in the picking list from their stock locations.

2- Move all the picked products to the sorting area.

3- Distribute the quantities for each sales order in the sorting area.

4- Load the orders onto trucks for shipment.

Pick to Cart Method:

In this mode of batch picking, the picker is responsible for picking and consolidating the orders simultaneously. The operator has a cart with drawers or boxes, each corresponding to a specific order. The picker retrieves the items from the shelves and directly places them into the drawers of the corresponding orders containing that product.

For example, the operator retrieves 12 units of product X. In the conventional method, the entire quantity is placed in a single cart and then distributed in the sorting area. However, in Pick to Cart, 4 units will be placed in drawer 2 corresponding to order B, 6 units in drawer 5 corresponding to order E, and 4 units will be placed in drawer 6 corresponding to order F. This way, when the picker finishes picking the items, the items will already be sorted.

Pick to Box Method:

This method is an extension of the Pick to Cart method. Instead of collecting the goods in drawers and then transferring them to the final packages, the Pick to Box method involves placing the collected items directly into the boxes. Therefore, the carts have open packaging instead of drawers. It follows the same approach as Pick to Cart, with the only difference being that once picking is complete, only the shipping process remains. This method integrates the consolidation and packaging processes.

Although this method may seem the most optimal, it requires detailed planning to determine the size of the packages for each order and how many of these packages can be completed in a single run.

How to semi-automate the “batch picking” process?

In the technological era we live in, there are several IT solutions available to automate different processes in companies. Digitization undoubtedly brings convenience to operators and decision-makers in warehouses. It would be impossible to describe the workings of all ERPs or WMSs in this regard. However, we will explain a case of automation that preserves flexibility and freedom for decision-makers.

Three warehouse roles will be mentioned in these steps:

  • Stock manager/warehouse manager: responsible for monitoring stock levels, controlling preparations, and planning deliveries.
  • Batch picker: warehouse worker responsible for picking grouped orders.
  • Batch distributor: warehouse worker responsible for distributing the bulk-picked items to the orders.

The semi-automated batch picking process:

  1. The stock manager consults the list of orders to be prepared on their ERP/WMS desktop system.
  2. The stock manager assigns orders with the same delivery date to the same batch (a batch is a group of orders that will be prepared simultaneously, and each batch has a unique reference).
  3. The stock manager assigns other orders for individual picking or to another picking method.
  4. The batch picker reviews the existing batch and its picking list from their PDA (Personal Digital Assistant).
  5. The system generates the optimal route to guide the batch picker along their path.
  6. The batch picker scans the picked items and places them on a pallet.
  7. Once the pallet is loaded, the batch picker unloads it in the sorting and distribution area for orders.
  8. The batch distributor reviews the picked products on their PDA and distributes them into carts (each cart has a reference linked to an order).
  9. At the same time, the batch picker continues retrieving all items from the picking list and unloading them into the sorting area, while the batch distributor continues to distribute the items by order into the carts.
  10. Once picking and distribution are completed, the carts go through quality control, then the packaging area, where they are placed on pallets or packages, and finally loaded onto trucks for shipment.

In the case of HORECA (Hotel, Restaurant, and Catering) distributors, they often prefer goods to be delivered in rolling carts to protect fragile products and avoid wasting time unpacking pallets.

Application case:

In order to apply the batch picking method, your warehouse must be well-organized to facilitate the work and movement of operators in the aisles. Proper item and location addressing is a necessary condition for any type of efficient picking. Otherwise, warehouse workers will have difficulty finding the correct items and waste time making unnecessary trips.

The batch picking method is particularly suitable for warehouses that process orders on a regular basis. To be more specific, batch picking is most effective when applied to orders that need to be prepared within the same time interval. To achieve this, the preparers need to know the delivery dates of the orders in advance in order to group those with the same dates.

The efficiency of the batch picking system increases significantly if the following conditions are met:

  • Items are easy to handle: For the operator to collect the products, place them in the same cart, and complete their route, the weight and volume of the products must be reasonable.
  • Received orders often contain common items: The more orders containing similar products, the more efficient batch picking becomes, saving time during preparations.

Advantages of batch picking

When properly configured, batch picking offers numerous benefits to operators, business owners, and customers alike.

  • Optimize execution time: instead of preparing orders successively, batch picking allows simultaneous preparation of multiple orders and saving time.
  • Reduce distances traveled by operators: batch picking optimizes the routes of pickers and minimizes the operators’ movement in the aisles.
  • Reduce number of active warehouse workers: since orders can be prepared in less time and with less effort, companies can double or even triple the number of orders prepared with the same number of employees.
  • Increase order shipping capacity: the aforementioned advantages result in reduced lead times, allowing the remaining time and resources to be used to prepare more orders.

Batch picking optimizes your picking processes and the efficient use of your resources, increasing warehouse productivity, profitability, and logistical competitiveness.

Automate your picking processes

We can conclude that the batch picking system is ideal for:

  • E-commerce companies as it fulfills most of the mentioned conditions.
  • HORECA (Hotel, Restaurant, and Catering) distributors as they regularly supply food products and equipment to restaurants, cafes, bars, hotels, and caterers. Their orders are homogeneous as they contain similar products and are planned in advance.

To choose between the three batch picking methods, the conventional method allows for collecting more items in less time as they are randomly placed on the pallet during picking. As for the Pick to Cart and Pick to Box methods, they are more compatible with businesses that sell small items such as jewelry.

Warehouses that optimize their picking system can improve profitability, reduce costs, and enhance customer satisfaction.

In future articles, we will present other types of picking to enrich your range of choices.

For businesses that meet the conditions of batch picking, automating batch picking can increase your productivity and operational efficiency, while reducing execution times.