Packing Stations Are Process Areas to Improve Productivity and Accuracy

Packing Stations Are Process Areas to Improve Productivity and Accuracy

Packing is a process most common in DC operations such as apparel, small parts, and direct-to-consumer. It is usually done at fixed stations fed by conveyors and sorters. They are usually equipped with PCs, dunnage dispensers, scanners, printers, and outbound shipping containers. Some are equipped with scales.

Packing stations are process areas where you can improve productivity and accuracy with our technology. Paper-based packing stations are becoming less common, but if encountered, you can drive efficiencies through the use of mobile computers and scanners. This process area is also another area where an increased use of voice technology is being deployed. Using voice drives additional efficiency by eliminating the extra steps required to pick up and set down the mobile computer or scanner.

Packing stations are prime printer application areas, as each outbound carton requires some form of labeling. This area is an ideal area to differentiate with our smart printing technology, thereby eliminating the need to equip each packing station with a costly PC. The use of smart printers can also drive vast benefits in operations doing seasonal business. Numerous “portable” packing stations can be deployed quickly and to almost anywhere needed without the necessity to hardwire system connectivity and other infrastructure.

Packing stations are also prime areas for using our Address Verification solution to verify outbound addresses, especially in direct-to-consumer DCs.

On the Path to Continuous Improvement

Supply chain leaders who are responsible for DCs continually seek to balance best practices with identifying the most impactful KPIs/metrics to drive productivity, cost optimization, and service excellence.

The real value of metrics comes from analyzing the metrics output and driving a continuous improvement mindset throughout each workflow in the DC/warehouse.   

We can point to almost any DC KPI and learn the best-in-class metrics that provide us a benchmark to measure against. The path to best in class is a process of improvement in which you can identify workflow pain points and develop a path that incorporates a combination of investment in technology and continuous improvement. 

As a tool to help review and identify opportunities for improvement, DCs conduct what we at Honeywell refer to as a DC Walkthrough for each workflow, which should be done every two to three years. This is a review/audit based on best practices that can yield clear and measurable actions to use and consider when planning for workflow improvement and investment. We’ll take a closer look later in the article. 

According to the WERC study “DC Measures 2018 Trends and Challenges1,” the following are a few of the KPIs that DCs use in part to measure the Packing workflow:

  1. Lines Picked and Shipped per Hour
    • Definition. Measures the productivity of picking and shipping operations in lines per-person hour.
    • Calculation. Total order lines picked and shipped / Total hours worked in the picking and shipping operation.
    • Quintile performance metrics.
      • Best-in-class. >= 92.8 per hour
      • Median. 35
      • Typical. >= 26 and < 47.6
      • Disadvantage. >= 12 and < 26
  2. Orders Picked and Shipped per Hour
    • Definition. Measures the productivity of picking and shipping operations in orders per-person hour.
    • Calculation. Total orders picked / Total hours worked in the picking and shipping operation.
    • Quintile performance metrics.
      • Best-in-class. >= 35 per hour
      • Median. 10
      • Typical. >= 6.08 and < 15
      • Disadvantage. >= 2.76 and < 6.08
  3. On-Time Ready to Ship
    • Definition. The percentage of orders ready for shipment at the planned time. “Ready for shipment” typically means that packaging and shipping documents are completed and ready for pickup.
    • Calculation. Number of orders ready for shipment on-time / Number of total orders shipped.
    • Quintile performance metrics.
      • Best-in-class. >= 99.8%
      • Median. 99%
      • Typical. >= 98% and < 99%
      • Disadvantage. >= 94% and < 98%

Improving the Packing Workflow with a DC Walkthrough

A DC Walkthrough is an engaging assessment that includes discussions, observations, and interviews among workers, supervisors, and management personnel with the objective to document current business and operational processes and look at ways technology and process changes can be applied to make improvements. The DC Walkthrough can be an informal or formal review/audit conducted by the company or external third parties. 

At Honeywell we have the opportunity to conduct DC Walkthroughs throughout the world for every conceivable type and size of DC. The goal of our assessment is to validate logistical/operational processes relative to industry best practices focused on time savings, increased worker productivity, and improved accuracy. We focus on the identification of opportunities to both improve stand-alone general processes, as well as improve processes with new technology. 

When we review the Packing workflow, we ask questions like:

  1. Is there a separate packing/consolidation station?
  2. What steps are performed at the packing station?
  3. Are any labels printed/applied at packing?
  4. Do orders need to be consolidated following picking?
  5. How is packing performed? (paper, label, RF, voice)
  6. How is address verification accomplished?
  7. Is there a manifest system?
  8. What information is required by the manifest system?
  9. What information is produced by the manifest system?
  10. What steps are performed at the shipping/manifest system station?
  11. What types of carriers are used for outbound product?

Picking/Packing Walkthrough Observations and Recommendations Example

Conducting a DC Walkthrough is done with “fresh eyes.” Fresh eyes is defined as looking at the workflow with the intent of learning and understanding the current state of operations without bias or preconceived conclusions, and then applying industry knowledge and best practices to recommend ways to improve upon the current performance.

The following is an example of a DC Walkthrough Honeywell did for a medium-sized DC in North America for the Picking/Packing workflow, which includes observations with associated recommendations.

DC Walkthrough Observations

  1. Regional Orders
    1. Arrive by 1:30 p.m.
    2. Picked by 7:00 a.m. next day
  2. User Orders
    1. Arrive all day 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
      1. 35% to 40% arrive after 3:00 p.m.
    2. Picked by end of day
      1. Use part-timers for late picks
  3. Special Orders
    1. Will calls
    2. Includes Hazmat
  4. Orders Separated Into Lines (SKUs)
    1. Average 3,000 lines daily
    2. 60% lines for end-user orders
      1. 2.3 lines/order average
    3. 40% lines for regional orders
      1. ~ 11 lines/order average
    4. Site 1 and Site 2 can 70% to 30% reverse
      1. Average 4,800 lines Site 1
      2. Average 5,200 lines Site 2
  5. Using RF for Pick
    1. Also, some Bluetooth® ring scanners
  6. Pick for UPS, LTL, Specials
  7. Pick Pallet/Case/Each
  8. Bin Shelving
    1. Fast-moving each picks
  9. Orders broken into picks by management
    1. Area, level, etc.
    2. Combines in system, scans the numbers, and writes a combined number on top sheet
    3. Pickers enter the top number in device and begin pick
      1. Why not scan this number? SAP limitation?
    4. Discrete orders
      1. One picker picks entire order regardless of area
      2. Might necessitate switching out MHE types
  10. Pick
    1. Scan or hand type order/code into device
    2. Proceed to first location
    3. Scan location ID
      1. Receive error message of wrong location
    4. Scan product
    5. Enter quantity
    6. Repeat process
    7. Order completion
      1. Drop at specific areas
        1. LTL on dock
          • No visible stage placards
        2. Parcel to packing area (convey)
          • Drop product and paperwork into tote (several sizes)
          • Place on conveyor
        3. Specials to front right of dock
  11. Pick Types
    1. LTL
      1. Pick to pallet
    2. Parcel
      1. Pick to large blue cart on forks
      2. Pick to walk carts from bins
  12. Pick Goals
    1. User – 250 lines/daily
    2. Regular – 400 lines/daily
  13. Packing
    1. Goals
      1. User – 300 lines/daily
      2. Regional – 350 lines/daily
    2. Scan order
    3. Scan products
    4. Enter quantity
      1. Provides audit
      2. If scan each item, audit is automatic?
    5. Once all correct prints packing list
    6. Picks box size
    7. Puts product and slip in box
      1. Vendor box does not need opened
      2. Uses packing list with packing envelope
    8. Adds dunnage, seals, and pushes to convey
  14. Manifesting occurs at another end of conveyor
    1. Sometimes strapping multiples together for shipment savings
    2. UPS system with Dim/Weight capture and Zebra printer
      1. Prints destination label upon Dim/Weight completion
      2. Fluid load into staged trailer
    3. Lane 4
      1. Non-conveyable
      2. Using hand tape measure to capture Dim/Weight
    4. Do have instances of bad label prints

DC Walkthrough Best Practices Recommendations

Packing is a process common in DC operations handling small parcel orders and/or direct-to-consumer. It is usually done at fixed stations that can be fed by conveyors and/or sorters or serviced by carts. They are usually equipped with PCs, dunnage/tape dispensers, scanners, printers, and outbound shipping containers. Some are equipped with scales. Packing stations are process areas where productivity and accuracy can be improved with technology. 

This DC is currently packing in a dedicated area using an automated conveyor system to deliver cartons to manifesting. This best practice should continue; however, combining the packing and manifesting functions in one area is something to consider for the future, especially if volumes begin to increase and the space currently occupied by packing is needed for storage/picking. There was ample space on the dock to combine these processes into one process area.

A printing option would be to deploy fixed smart printers from Honeywell to streamline the packing area and reduce the cost of the station, its footprint, and possible repair/replacement of multiple components. Honeywell smart printers can host the shipping software, thus eliminating the need for separate and costly hard drives and PCs. They easily integrate with scales (can be Bluetooth) to provide weight capture. Scales can even be shared across packing stations if needed. They also work with Honeywell scanners in a tethered or wireless fashion to provide the scan capability needed in packing. 

The 8680i wearable mini mobile or voice can also be deployed in packing for hands-free work processes. Honeywell media labels can also be deployed in a fashion where the multi-part label contains both the shipping information and the packing list, thus eliminating the need for any document printer at the packing station.

The new Honeywell PX940 label printer is an automatic verifier printer that prints labels quickly and verifies accuracy and/or good label reads. Should any label be deemed not scannable, then the printer marks that label and prints a replacement in seconds. This can avoid bad scans downstream within the DC or at the parcel sorting centers. These printers can be integrated into the existing manifest systems.

Recommended hardware and software for these processes includes:

  • Packing
    • 8680i wearable mini mobile 


    • PX940 verifying printer with associated media
  • All mobility and voice recommendations are Android™ capable.

Technology Improvements in the Packing Workflow

According to the 2018 WERC study1, technology within the supply chain is becoming increasingly important. Many companies are beginning to focus on digital transformation by focusing more on mobile technologies, cloud-based services, and big data practices. 

The study also points out that a majority of distribution centers use no other technology beyond a warehouse management system (WMS) and mobile devices with RF/barcode scanners. In terms of adoption plans, over 90% of warehouse managers expect to be using mobile technologies within five years (which is just over 50% today). Eighty-six percent expect to be using big data and real-time analytics within five years, which is a 60% increase over the percentage of people using the technology today.

Honeywell brings a wide set of solutions together that can influence positive outcomes in the Packing workflow throughout the DC. They include the following:  

  • Mobile Computers with 1D and 2D ImagingUtilizing mobile computers with imagers to scan product and label information as well as capture additional data is more productive (~25%) and accurate (~50%) than paper/manual-based methods. It helps ensure quality control, vendor compliance, and quantity-received information is captured in real-time.
  • Wearable Solutions. A growing number of companies have turned to hands-free computing solutions to streamline operations and improve productivity. The Honeywell 8680i wearable mini mobile provides a hands-free solution that offers increases in productivity and improved ergonomics over handheld devices.
  • Barcode Scanning. Superior durability and reliability, with water- and dust-proof housings and rubberized to reduce damage from falls. Choose from laser, linear image, and area image industrial scanners for fast and accurate scanning, the first time and every time. The best solutions for packing typically include a Xenon™ family scanner in a cradle that does not need picked up and put down constantly.
  • Vehicle-Mounted Computer Solutions. Our vehicle-mounted computer solutions turn forklift- and vehicle-based workflows into information technology platforms. Roughly 25% of the average DC’s labor is spent on receiving and put-away tasks. Equipping your forklifts with technologies – such as computers, barcode scanners, printers, radio-frequency identification (RFID), voice, lights, and software – can reduce material handling costs, help optimize order fulfillment rates, and help increase inventory accuracy with real-time tracking.
  • Fixed and Mobile Printing and Media. The PC43 desktop printer is ideal for medium-volume printing needs, while the PM43 industrial printer is designed for higher volumes.

    From light-duty to ultra-rugged models – stationary and portable – to printer software, media, service, and parts, Honeywell offers an extensive range of solutions for any environment or print application.

    • Industrial Label Printers. For commercial light-volume jobs to rugged, round-the-clock printing, built-in “smarts” means greater efficiency and lower cost: error-proof labeling, easy programmability, advanced networking connectivity and security, RFID, and liner-less technology.
    • Desktop Label Printers. The clear choice for a wide variety of light-duty label, ticket, and tag printing applications: quiet and compact, highly intuitive and flexible, and a range of configurations designed to match your needs.
    • Mobile Label Printers. From retail floor labels to field service receipts – designed to withstand punishing conditions where dirt, moisture, temperature extremes, and drops are common: fast, rugged, and ready to move, and allow a full day of printing without recharging.
    • Printer Media Supplies. For a broad range of barcode printing applications, even in some of the toughest environments. Includes barcode labels and tags, receipt paper and wristbands, and thermal ribbons and RFID labels.
  • RFID. Ideal for applications such as inventory cycle counts, omnichannel order fulfillment, receiving new product, and pick lists – lightweight yet rugged for tough DC environments.
  • Material Handling Solutions from Honeywell Intelligrated. We see many medium-size DCs exploring and adding varying degrees of material handling solutions to augment and/or replace manual portions of their DC operations with elements of the Honeywell Intelligrated offering such as:
  • Labor Management Software (LMS). Honeywell Intelligrated’s Labor Management software allows you to effectively manage your labor and staffing needs, helping you to maximize labor productivity and minimize labor costs. Actionable insights allow you to accurately evaluate worker performance. Patented algorithms help forecast when workers may be at risk for leaving, giving you the ability to take proactive measures. Our LMS provides an effective way to manage labor productivity while improving training, process compliance, and efficiency.
  • Sortation and Conveyor Systems. Sortation and conveyor systems are the critical conduits for transporting, directing, and routing product flows through busy DC environments. While conveyors are essential for moving product throughout a facility, sortation systems separate products for induction into individual lanes typically associated with an outbound destination. With the rise of ecommerce, sortation and conveyor systems have evolved from simply transporting cases for store replenishment to handling a variety of individual items and packaging types. Honeywell Intelligrated’s award-winning solutions cover the full spectrum of throughput requirements – up to 20,000 items per hour.
  • Palletizing and Depalletizing. Keep your end-of-line packaging, distribution, and fulfillment operations moving at industry-leading speeds – more than 200 cases per minute or more – with Honeywell Intelligrated’s palletizers and depalletizers. Whether you’re a manufacturer or an omnichannel retailer, you’ll get the flexibility and dependability to stay at peak efficiency. Our engineers can install individual units, or set up complete systems fully integrated with your existing conveyor and other material-handling equipment.
  • Warehouse Execution Systems. Honeywell Intelligrated’s Momentum software helps improve efficiencies, automate manual processes, and fully help optimize fulfillment operations. This unified platform reduces unsupportable, one-off customizations and allows you to select only the functions you need to meet your unique operational requirements.
  • Robotics. Robotics enable high-performance material handling and fulfillment capabilities throughout your operations. Robotic palletizers and depalletizers have become indispensable for automating labor-intensive tasks in modern manufacturing, distribution, and fulfillment operations. Honeywell Intelligrated’s breadth of palletizing equipment and decades of industry experience provide best-fit palletizing solutions designed to address today’s demanding production and fulfillment requirements. We have more than 25 years of experience developing and implementing robotic solutions for dynamic, unstructured environments such as distribution centers. Backed by extensive knowledge of DC workflows, we offer warehouse integration expertise, innovative technologies, and a strong controls foundation to incorporate the benefits of robotics into your operation. From packet picking and robotic singulation to unloading and depalletizing, we have a broad portfolio of patented robotic innovations and strive to continually engineer new solutions.

Achieve Better Outcomes with Honeywell

At Honeywell, we have extensive experience in successfully solving complex problems for a variety of ecommerce and omnichannel businesses. We’re committed to solving your DC accuracy challenges through relentless innovation and a desire to deliver best-fit solutions. We provide access to the actionable insights and information you need to transform your business.

Our expert assessment teams will partner with you to understand your unique business requirements and identify where opportunities exist to optimize your workflows and increase efficiencies within today’s competitive business climate.

Take your DC to the next level. Contact us today. https://www.honeywellaidc.com/solutions/environment/distribution-center

1 DC Measures 2018 Trends and Challenges, WERC

Barry J. Ewell

Barry J. Ewell is a Senior Content Marketing Communications Specialist for Honeywell Industrial Automation. He has been researching and writing on supply chain topics since 1991.