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“Good Old Fashioned” Pick to Cart

Sometimes, tried and true methods are still the most effective
By Chad Collins, vice president of marketing and strategy for Highjump Software
March 15, 2011

Editor’s Note: The following column by Chad Collins, vice president of marketing and strategy for HighJump Software, is part of Modern’s new Other Voices column. The series, published on Wednesdays, will feature ideas, opinions and insights from end users, analysts, systems integraters and OEMs. Click on the link to learn about submitting a column for consideration.

Recently, my travels brought me to Salt Lake City, UT where HighJump has several Warehouse Management System WMS customers.  We visited three customers, a prospective customer and had fantastic Mexican lunch with a partner based in Salt Lake City. 

One of the things that stood out was the picking method being used by all three customers we visited.  In the days of sophisticated conveyor sortation systems, voice picking and even robotic picking, all three customers were doing “good old fashioned” pick to cart. 

In a pick-to-cart scenario, a worker will move a cart which is typically made of sturdy metal wire and attached to wheels.  The cart is segmented into sections which allow the picker to segregate orders or pick batches of a single item to be sorted into individual orders at a packing station.  The WMS assigns pick “batches” to each cart and orders to each location on the cart.  The picker is directed in an optimized travel path through the warehouse and places picked items on the cart in their predefined sub section of the cart.  Depending on the size of the facility and the profile of the orders assigned to the cart, the picker may pass the cart to another picking zone.  In the new picking zone, a new picker will complete all required picks for the cart that are located in the current picking zone.  Once carts are completed they are delivered to a packing station.

At the packing station, items are validated against the order either by visual indicator (picture on the computer monitor) or by scanning a barcode on the product.  The products are placed into shipping containers and the appropriate shipping label is applied to the shipping container.

This approach may sound old fashioned or sub-optimized to many familiar with modern distribution center operations. However, the performance of this picking and packing method speaks for itself.  All three customers where averaging between 100-300 order lines picked per individual per hour (the site with longer travel times and a more diverse product handling requirements was at the low end of that range and the site with shortest travel paths and most uniform product handling was achieving the higher end of the range).  At one site the packers were able to validate up to 2,000 products per hour scanning a bar code on each product.

I think this highlights that “old fashioned” approaches can be effective.  These distribution centers are not constrained by inflexible material handling equipment, they did not incur substantial capital outlay to set-up their picking processes and if their productivity is among the best I have seen.

Click on the link to learn more about submitting an Other Voices column to MMH.com.

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About the Author

Bob Trebilcock, executive editor, has covered materials handling, technology and supply chain topics for Modern Materials Handling since 1984. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. Contact Bob Trebilcock.


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