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Optimising order fulfilment and eliminating picking inaccuracies

Efficiency in a warehouse environment is all about saving time and costs and maximising productivity while delivering excellent customer service. With around 55% of the costs of warehouse operating expenses typically involved in picking and packing, it is vital that the process is as efficient as possible.

With the continued growth of e-commerce, consumers, both business and individual buyers, have fundamentally changed their expectations in terms of order fulfilment and turnaround. When combined with narrowing margins, these expectations place demands on the warehousing sector that have not been seen in the past, creating an environment where speed, accuracy and cost efficiency are even more crucial than ever.

In order picking operations, reducing the number of picking errors is critically important. Simple mistakes, such as packing the wrong item, miscounting quantities or putting labels on the wrong packages, can cost a business hundreds of thousands of pounds a year in correction costs or contract penalties. With order fulfilment being the final touch-point with the customer, picking mistakes that aren’t rectified before they reach their destination can have a direct impact on business reputation. Factor in the costs of return shipping, loss of repeat business and time spent on correcting mis-picked orders or dealing with customer complaints and picking accuracy can have a huge impact on your bottom line.

Stewart Campbell, Market Manager for Logistics at Avery Weigh-Tronix, explores how employing appropriate technology in warehouse environments can improve fulfilment and shipping  accuracy and enhance overall workflow productivity.

Improving picking accuracy without slowing things down

Over a number of months, the innovations team at Avery Weigh-Tronix has spent time undertaking in-depth interviews with some of the key players in the warehousing/logistics industry. This fact-finding mission, along with a period of immersing themselves in client operations, has allowed Stewart to work with a project team to produce a range of solutions designed to improve picking accuracy at the point of pick.

Stewart explains, “Clients consistently told us that managing pick accuracy and speed was a significant pain point in their operation, not only in terms of management time, but also costs. Our solution innovation has been driven by this customer need and designed specifically to address their pain points. One thing that is common across all of the customers that I work with is the need to improve picking accuracy without slowing operations. Our research has shown that current pick accuracy control methods can be a pinch point slowing the operation.  It also showed that correcting errors found can be costly and time consuming.  All of which pointed to the need to verifying pick accuracy at the point of pick. ”

Verifying picking accuracy at the point of pick

By verifying the accuracy of the pick before an order is packed and dispatched, warehouses eliminate the need to rework packages later in the process or, worse, deal with customer complaints if the issue is not detected before dispatch. Using verification systems that combine existing pick management tools such as Pick to Voice and Pick to Light, integrated with WMS stock data, order picking lists, scanner/barcode technology and weight can verify that the correct item has been picked and in the correct quantity. Fitting the systems to mobile picking carts can speed the process up even more, relieving the burden on order pickers and eliminating the need for additional Quality Control.  

One time touches and quality control

As well as being the most labour intensive part of a warehousing operation, picking is also the most error prone. A core principle in all materials handling operations is to “minimise touches”. The ability to verify accuracy when picking, via barcode scanning, weight verification or other means, helps to avoid the kind of errors that can require further repacking or shipping checks. Our pick accuracy solutions verify accuracy at the point of pick so quality control is achieved as a single touch without further quality control, saving time and labour costs.

Improve customer service

Commitment to quality and service are key to building a repeat customer base. Sending out incorrect orders is a costly mistake, resulting in lost custom and extra labour-hours dealing with customer complaints and returns. When handling critical or time sensitive components, there can often be contractual financial penalties associated with service quality and accuracy. By verifying your pick accuracy at the point of pick, not only are you protecting your service quality and reputation, but also avoiding the risk of these penalties.  

With speed and accuracy of the essence in these fast-paced operations, investment in the right equipment is vital. Partnering with a reputable service and maintenance provider can also help to minimise costly downtime and ensure that the equipment is operating as efficiently as possible.

Managing inventory and replenishment

The benefits of using a mobile picking verification system linked to a scale extend beyond the ability to check that orders are correct. Our solution also enables workers to verify inventory in real time, eliminating the costly efforts and downtime associated with inventory counts. For example, checkweighing a bin of remaining components and comparing it with the stock levels in your WMS is a fast and simple way of verifying stock accuracy.

Whilst this may add an extra step into the picking process, it alleviates the need to have a dedicated audit process, or take time out for wall-to-wall stock checks. This perpetual stock checking process also helps to avoid the likelihood of stock-outs which can have a negative impact on customer orders.

The Bottom Line  

Stewart concludes, “We know that implementing a verification process or solution that slows down picking operations is absolutely not an option. Our innovations team have worked in conjunction with customers to produce a mobile solution that is designed to give a picker access to everything they need to pick, verify and label an order from one easily movable workstation.”

”Initial data analysis and feedback from clients using these systems suggests a speedy return on investment.  For the investment required, the benefit is potentially huge, offering cost savings across the process by reducing the impact of incorrect picks – including avoiding double pick time, increased shipping, packages and return charges, customer service time and lost custom. In addition, building weighing into any picking and packing operation can help to safeguard profits by reducing both under and over shipments.”