Picking at the Speed of Light

Picking at the Speed of Light

Picking is one the more critical functions in modern distribution and fulfillment center operations. From manual paper-based processes to RF scanning, voice picking and pick-to-light automation, these methodologies are integral to order fulfillment workflows. To meet the throughput and accuracy demands of today’s high-density, high-velocity e-commerce environments, many distribution center (DC) managers are transitioning their manual picking processes to an automated option. Due to its efficiency, speed and accuracy, pick-to-light is quickly becoming a preferred picking technology.

E-commerce order fulfillment requires more each or open-case picking that are significantly more labor intensive than traditional bulk distribution picking processes used in retail replenishment. What this means for DCs is that they now have many more discrete (and more frequent) picking actions to complete the fulfillment process. But simply increasing speed to enable the desired throughput is not enough: operators must also maintain efficiency and accuracy.

Compared to RF and voice-picking methods, pick-to-light technology delivers multiple advantages, including:

  • Best-in-class productivity — setting the industry standard for 300 to 800 lines per hour
  • High accuracy rates — limiting errors to less than five percent
  • Operator safety — allows for hands-free operation
  • Maximum density — ideal for high-density, break pack fulfillment areas

Let’s look at what speed alone enables by comparing light picking processes to commonly used RF scanning. In typical scenarios, an RF pick takes approximately three seconds to complete. It takes half that time (1.5 seconds) to perform the same pick with lights, which essentially cuts picking times in half. So, if you have 1,000 picks that take 3 seconds each, moving to a pick-to-light process reduces that timeframe from 3,000 seconds to 1,500 seconds (or a savings of 25 minutes) — delivering both immediate and long-term process improvements. 

The latest generation of pick-to-light hardware and software features an easily configurable, continuous string of lights that allows operators to maximize pick densities and create new storage and slotting areas in the DC. Enabling these storage improvements also helps drive additional picking efficiencies; the higher the product density of the slotting area, the fewer unproductive footsteps between picks. And from a capital expenditures perspective, lights technology allows DC operators to achieve these benefits within their existing facility footprints, without requiring additional expansion.

Of course, one of the other major differences between pick-to-light and other picking technologies is that lights-driven picking requires virtually no training, allowing operators to quickly get new employees up to speed and flex resources from other areas of the DC for maximum staff utilization. Combined, these factors deliver significant savings in training budgets and improvements in resource management capabilities. 

There are ergonomic benefits to lights picking as well, due to the reduction of repetitive motions found in other picking options. With lights, the operator doesn’t have to scan a barcode, check something or read anything. The only action is to confirm the pick with a button push at each location — no handheld interaction, holster- or wrist-mounted device, or wearable to manipulate.  

For many DC operators, pick-to-light systems are their entry point into greater automation, helping them automate and introduce new efficiencies to previously manual processes. With our deep application experience and innovations and pick-to-light hardware and software, Honeywell Intelligrated is uniquely positioned to help operators make this transition. 

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