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Optimize your order pickers’ efficiency with these tips

27 Jul 2018

7 min read

As an entrepreneur within logistics you find efficiency extremely important. You feel the margins become smaller and the customer demands increasing: “We want it to be faster and cheaper! And keep me updated about everything!” You want to comply with this, but you are already drowning in all other activities. In addition, your warehouse bulges because of all new requests. A booming economy also has a downside, is what you have come to notice.

As long as your order pickers do their job well, there is nothing to worry about. But is that really the case? Doesn’t your organization waste time because they are waiting for a next pick task? Are your office activities optimally adjusted to the picking process? Given the fact you are already busy, I do not want to give you more worries. That is why in this new order pick blog I have brought five points of attention together, to minimize the administration and waiting time in your warehouse. Those are the last two order pick components of the four that I brought to attention in my first blog of this series.

Administration time

It is not everyone’s favorite task, but without administration an organization is one big chaos. Finances, stocks, customer reports: all of them are necessary to keep things running. Fortunately, most of it can be automated. But how is the administration arranged around your order picking activities? Is your office process in line with your picking processes and vice versa? To what extent can your order pickers independently start and complete their shift; at what times do they depend on other people’s administrative activities? In addition to thorough automation, I will mention a few focus points to limit the wasted administrative time at the office.

The office

Administrative time relates in this context to the administrative tasks and start-up activities at the office. To what extent are order pickers unburdened by office staff before and after their shift? For starters, you must have someone (or a system) who takes on these tasks. In addition, it is useful that your office is located at a practical location. Is the office on the west side of your warehouse? Make sure that the picking process does not take place on the east side – with all other storage in between. If an order picker needs the office, it will not take a lot of extra travel time.

Another disadvantage is that the employees on the floor become more creative when there is a big distance between the office and the picking floor. The distance and travel time are arguments to avoid the office and reasons “to figure it out yourself”. The associated creativity often brings additional administrative pressure, because the solutions have to be corrected. By the way, it does not matter whether the travel distance is horizontal or vertical – for example going upstairs.

Preparation at the office

Picture your own picking process: The morning shift starts. Your order pickers arrive at the warehouse. They drink a cup of coffee together and put on their work clothes. And then?
Is it immediately known what they should do or do they have to get to the office first? If the order pickers start at the office, make sure that the required information is available. “Just in time” printing is often preferred; unless a group starts together.
Are there any special announcements? Mention them after the general shift start, only to those to whom the details apply. Here too: at the right time, the right information to the right person.
Finally, make sure that it is possible to pick at all. In other words: make sure the replenishment is started (or almost completed) before the order pickers receive their instructions. Also make sure that pick labels are printed, or that the label printers are active and ready for use. This is also part of the administrative tasks.

Completion at the office

We continue to think on process level – we skip to the moment when your pickers finish their shift. Do they report at the office after every order? Do they perform extra activities when putting away a pick pallet? Is every set out pallet provided with a shipping label?
Do you still have administrative tasks to fulfill? Of course: services have been provided and must be settled. Services, you say? Yes, think about wrapping, picking, placing pallets, stacking, et cetera.
Furthermore, it must be checked whether everything is picked; defects are checked and – if confirmed – registered. Will your customer get an update? And what about stock control? Although it might not happen to you, picking errors are often found with your competing colleagues. And alright, you think insight in your stock is crucial as well, but it takes so much time. Counting with pen and paper and then entering manually is labor-intensive and highly error-prone. In some warehouses pickers check their own or each other’s work. A nice opportunity for cycle counting, braided in the picking process.

Is the action necessary? – is it needed now? – Is this the fastest way?

Waiting time

In 1993, two Dutch professors, Pruyn and Smidts, investigated waiting time. They concluded that the Dutch wait 30 days a day on average. This included traffic jams, so there is a big chance that this average is higher today. What is probably not included in their study is the waiting time of order pickers until they can start the next task. If they did, the average waiting time would even be higher. This is the fourth and last component where you as a warehouse manager (possibly) lose a lot of time and because of that can gain efficiency.

Preparing the picking order

The waiting time is a sum of the start-up time and completion time of a pick task. What does an order picker have to do to start his task? First of all, collect the right equipment. This is in the broadest sense of the word. I mentioned earlier working clothes (and putting them on). But also think of getting a cart, roll container or a forklift. Are these located at logical locations along the route from entrance to pick location? Finally, the pick list is also important. If all goes well, it is ready at the office and is close to the coffee machine. And is that pick list necessary? Paperless work by means of RF scanning or voice-picking saves time, since paper and picker do not need each other anymore. And the paper saving contributes to your Corporate Social Responsibility as well!

Completing the picking order

The start of the shift is all about starting up. During and at the end of the service, your order pickers also complete assignments. What do they need to do for this? Probably put their equipment back in the right place. Perhaps pass on their information to the right people. Possibly do a recount or refill shelves. Whatever it is: make sure they can continue independently. Unnecessary waiting for colleagues or equipment is a waste of both their time and yours.

Is the action necessary? – is it needed now? – Is this the fastest way?

The question you should ask yourself over and over again

As far as these two components are concerned, we have seen that there is really only one question that counts: is this action really necessary? If not, eliminate it. If it is necessary, optimize it: execute it at the right moment, in the best way and by the right department. This way you minimize the time that your employees spend on administration or even worse, on waiting. Do you find it difficult to ask yourself this question and to give the correct answer? Contact us and we will ask and answer it with you.

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