Three Picking and Packing Best Practices for Improving Order Fulfillment

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Order fulfillment is a more difficult process than it once was. Decades ago, orders were fewer in number but larger in size. The proliferation of SKU types was not as rampant as it is today. The typical pick, pack, and ship operation moved more pallets and cases than individual items.

Moving larger quantities of fewer items is inherently efficient while the reverse, moving fewer quantities of more items is inefficient. Yet this inefficient customer order pattern is the trend seen by distribution centers today. One reason for this is the popularity of e-commerce. Warehouses must fulfill directly to the customer, the huge number of small orders made on thousands of e-commerce websites. Shipments to retailers are also becoming more difficult. In an effort to reduce their inventories, retailers are placing smaller but more frequent orders.

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This trend toward lots of small orders of individual items makes the picking and packing process more labor intensive and complex. Here are three tips on meeting this challenge:

Know Your Inventory Count

Inventory accuracy requires consistent and frequent cycle counting. While the use of bar code readers that interface with inventory control software go a long way to keeping accurate inventory records, physical goods can still slip through the cracks when their movements go unrecorded. Find a time of day or week when cycle counting doesn't interfere with order fulfillment.

Use Slotting

Slotting involves grouping similar items together in the warehouse. This similarity could be their size, weight, seasonality, pick frequency, turnover rate, and items commonly picked together. Slotting minimises the walking and time requirements of picking. Customer order patterns change over time, and warehouses must adapt their slotting accordingly.

Use Technology

Use the technology that best suits your order fulfillment needs. For example, pick to light technology works well when fast and accurate picking is required in warehouses with a high density of SKUs. The picker scans a bar code that represents an order which causes the bins containing the items of the order to light up with the quantity to pick.

Among the many technology options available, warehouse management systems are the most universally applicable to fulfillment centers of all kinds. A warehouse management system integrates all the operations of a warehouse such as inventory management, order processing, picking, and shipping. It can be thought of as the warehouse's nervous system that tracks and orchestrates the flow of materials from the suppliers to the ultimate customers.

The most efficient picking and packing operation won't matter unless it is part of a well-integrated warehouse operation. Hence the necessity of a good warehouse management system.

If you have questions about improving your picking, packing, and shipping operations, contact us today.


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