Light and Voice Combine to Pickup Picking’s Pace

Light and Voice Combine to Pickup Picking’s Pace

When pick to light and pick to voice technologies are combined, order fulfillment productivity can increase by as much as 25 percent.

When pick to light (PTL) and pick to voice (PTV) technologies are combined, picking productivity in eCommerce fulfillment distribution centers can increase by as much as 25 percent while reducing carton errors by more than 20 percent. This is because pickers can pick multiple orders at the same time.

Traditionally, PTL and PTV systems have focused on a single order. The instructions come down on the system, the picker goes all over the warehouse or distribution center to fulfill the order, then starts on the next one. In the process, the picker may walk by the same bins dozens of times during the day. Not very efficient, especially in an eCommerce situation where less-than-case quantities are being picked.

With the hybrid approach, pickers are able to pick the total number of items needed to fulfill several orders at the same time, and then place the correct quantities of each in the appropriate cartons. This process reduces the number of trips pickers have to make to a given bin or aisle by grouping tasks—which is the way most of us would naturally perform high-volume work if left to figure it out for ourselves.

Pick to Light solutions have been around for more than 30 years and are commonly used in fulfillment centers around the world. They convey simple location and quantity messages well. By adding Pick to Voice, more complicated messages can be conveyed, with virtually no limit to message size.

For example, a picking message may say, “Aisle 1. Shelf 3. Bin 4. Pick 7 each.” The user can then confirm each specific location command with an affirmative phrase such as “Ready” once the specific bin or SKU location has been reached. Then the user can confirm the pick by repeating the instruction—in this case, “Pick 7”—and scanning the location or product. The spoken command and scan basically serve as on-the-fly quality control measures.

Hybrid systems allow pickers to fill multiple orders at the same time, rather than having to pick and put each order sequentially. Combining order fulfillment in this way helps organizations to realize up to a 25-percent increase in picking rates per hour—the equivalent of adding an extra person to every eight-hour shift.

Such hybrid systems are designed to maximize the speed in which information is delivered to each user interacting with them. They can then provide the user with a visual representation of work—complemented and enhanced by a structured voice environment that prompts the user to perform the necessary actions required to complete tasks. As a result, it ensures the quality not only of the work that was accomplished, but also of the picking data that is relayed back to the Warehouse Management System (WMS).

The most critical advantage of a hybrid picking system is that it will enable the lights system to display aggregate pick quantities that span multiple cartons. This is made possible by voice-directed put instructions delivered immediately to the person in the distribution center doing the picking.

Another benefit of a hybrid approach is the reduction of foot traffic, a constant challenge in picking operations in distribution centers. Once a user begins inducting cartons into a zone by scanning their IDs, the scanned cartons are assigned a position number by the voice system. When that is completed, the total aggregate pick quantities—across all the cartons for the current zone—are calculated and related to the light system. Since the commands are voice-directed, a pick for any quantity of an SKU can be accurately put into any number of commands, enabling a user to then proceed to another illuminated light, where the user can pick, extinguish the light and begin the put process all over again.

By taking a hybrid approach, not only is foot traffic reduced through increases in pick density, but the picking quality and inventory accuracy improve since errors are reduced due to scan confirmations for each carton put command.

Hybrid picking systems are especially valuable in today’s eCommerce fulfillment centers, which can not only increase picking productivity by more than 25 percent, but can also reduce carton errors by more than 20 percent. In today’s eCommerce fulfillment world, that can help companies manage ever-higher volumes of smaller orders from their online customers.

Chris DeMeo is director of sales, Wynright Selection, an independent U.S.-based provider of intelligent material handling systems. He can be reached at [email protected].


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