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Automation
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January 4, 2024
January 4, 2024

5 Key Strategies for Efficient Case Picking

Explore strategies for case picking in warehouses: efficient bulk order fulfillment, comparison with pallet and broken case picking, and practical examples.

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In the fast-paced world of warehouse management, case picking stands out as a key strategy for efficient order fulfillment. Unlike traditional methods where items are picked individually, case picking involves selecting entire cases of products at once.

This article will explore the nuances of case picking, its benefits, challenges, and implementation strategies. Whether you're a logistics professional or just curious about warehouse operations, this overview will provide a concise yet comprehensive understanding of case picking and its role in modern supply chain management.  

What is case picking?  

Case picking refers to the process in warehouse operations where orders are picked in entire cases of quantities at once. Unlike piece picking, which involves selecting individual items, case picking involves handling full cases, each potentially containing multiple items.  

The method is commonly used when fulfilling orders that require larger quantities, making it more efficient in situations where the ordered items are already pre-packaged or boxed in quantities that match the order requirements. By picking entire cases, warehouse staff can expedite the order fulfillment process, especially for bulk orders or when the items in a case do not need to be individually selected or sorted.  

Below, we’ll walk you through how case picking differs from other picking methods.

Case picking is used when fulfilling orders that require larger quantities, making it more efficient in situations where the ordered items are already pre-packaged or boxed in quantities that match the order requirements.

How does case picking differ from other picking methods?

Case picking differs from other picking methods primarily in the size and quantity of the items being picked. Here's a comparison with other common picking methods:  

  • Piece Picking (or Single-Item Picking): This is where individual items are picked and assembled for each order. It's common in environments where orders are diverse and include a variety of different products. Piece picking is labor-intensive and time-consuming compared to case picking, as it involves selecting and handling individual items.
  • Pallet Picking: This involves selecting and moving entire pallets of goods. It's used for very large orders where the quantity needed justifies moving the entire pallet. This method is typically the least labor-intensive but requires adequate space and appropriate equipment to handle the large and heavy pallets.  
  • Wave Picking: Wave picking combines elements of both piece and case picking, organizing the picking process into "waves" to maximize efficiency. It often involves picking multiple orders simultaneously to reduce the time spent traveling within the warehouse.
  • Zone Picking: In this method, the warehouse is divided into different zones, and pickers are assigned to specific zones. Items for an order are picked as they pass through each zone, either by a single picker moving through the zones or by passing the order from one zone to the next.  
  • Batch Picking: Similar to wave picking, batch picking involves picking multiple orders at the same time to reduce travel time. However, batch picking usually focuses on grouping similar orders together to improve efficiency.
  • Case Picking: In case picking, on the other hand, entire cases of products are picked and moved, often using equipment like pallet jacks or forklifts. This method is more efficient when large quantities of the same item are required for an order. It's less labor-intensive per item than piece picking, as workers handle multiple items at once, all pre-packaged into cases.
  • Split-Case Picking: Split-case picking, also known as piece picking, each picking, break pack, or pick-pack, is a method used in warehouse operations where orders are fulfilled in quantities less than a full case, often down to individual items. It's a common practice when receiving products from vendors in full cases and then distributing them in smaller quantities to meet specific order requirements. This process is applicable to various order types, including direct-to-customer (DTC), business-to-business (B2B), and store replenishment.

Case picking is particularly effective in scenarios where orders are large and consist of items that can be easily grouped into cases. It reduces the time spent on picking individual items and is generally more efficient for certain types of orders, especially in wholesale or bulk distribution environments.

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Implementing case picking & how it works  

Implementing case picking in a warehouse involves setting up a dedicated area specifically for this purpose. In this area, cases are typically stored on pallets, allowing for efficient access and sorting. When orders come through, workers can quickly locate and pick the required cases. This setup enhances the speed and efficiency of the order fulfillment process, especially for larger orders or when dealing with products that are commonly ordered in full case quantities. The layout and organization of the case picking area are crucial, as they directly impact the ease of access to different products and the overall efficiency of the picking process.

Now that we’ve defined case picking, let’s delve into the key strategies to improve the process.  

The layout and organization of the case picking area are crucial, as they directly impact the ease of access to different products and the overall efficiency of the picking process.

5 strategies to improve case picking

Improving case picking efficiency in a warehouse can significantly boost overall productivity. Here are five strategies to enhance case picking operations:  

  1. Optimize warehouse layout: Design the warehouse layout to minimize travel time between picks. Place high-turnover items closer to the shipping area and organize the case picking area to allow for easy access and movement. A well-thought-out layout can drastically reduce the time spent moving between locations.
  2. Use appropriate equipment: Invest in the right material handling equipment like pallet jacks, forklifts, and conveyor systems. These tools can improve the speed and efficiency of moving cases, especially for heavier items. Automated equipment like robotic pickers can also be a significant asset in larger operations.  
  3. Implement warehouse management systems (WMS): A WMS can optimize picking routes, manage inventory, and provide real-time data to streamline operations. By using technology to direct pickers along the most efficient paths and manage inventory levels, you can reduce errors and improve picking speeds.
  4. Employee training and ergonomics: Ensure that staff are well-trained and aware of the most efficient picking techniques. Also, focus on warehouse ergonomics to reduce fatigue and injury. This can include proper lifting techniques, using equipment correctly, and designing workstations that are comfortable and reduce strain.
  5. Regularly review and adapt processes: Continuously analyze your picking process for any inefficiencies or bottlenecks. Use data from your WMS and feedback from employees to make informed adjustments. Regularly reviewing and adapting your strategies can lead to ongoing improvements in efficiency and productivity.

By implementing these strategies, a warehouse can significantly improve its case picking process, leading to faster order fulfillment, reduced labor costs, and overall increased efficiency.  

And speaking of benefits; let’s take a closer look at the main benefits of case picking.

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What are the benefits of case picking?  

Case picking offers several key benefits that can significantly enhance warehouse operations:

Efficiency

Case picking is inherently more efficient than piece picking, as each pick moves a larger quantity of product. This efficiency is particularly evident when handling orders that naturally align with the case quantities, reducing the need for breaking down cases into individual items.  

Reduced labor costs

By picking multiple items at once, case picking reduces the time and labor required per item. This can lead to significant labor cost savings, especially in high-volume operations where labor expenses constitute a major portion of operational costs.

Accurate order fulfillment

Case picking can improve accuracy since each pick involves a pre-packaged, pre-counted case of items. This reduces the likelihood of errors that can occur in piece picking, such as picking the wrong item or the incorrect quantity.  

Faster throughput

The speed of picking is generally faster with case picking, as each pick movement results in a larger quantity of items being moved. For example, if each case contains around 20 items, picking a single case effectively moves 20 units, significantly speeding up the order fulfillment process compared to picking 20 individual items.

These benefits make case picking an attractive option for warehouses and distribution centers, especially those dealing with bulk orders or products that are frequently ordered in case quantities. By streamlining the picking process, businesses can improve their overall operational efficiency and customer satisfaction.  

Case picking reduces the likelihood of errors that can occur in piece picking, such as picking the wrong item or the incorrect quantity.

What are the challenges of case picking?  

Case picking, while efficient for certain types of orders, does come with its own set of challenges. A primary challenge is that it is inherently suited only for large quantities. This limitation means it may not be the best strategy for orders that require a mix of small and large quantities or for clients who need a more flexible approach to order fulfillment. In such scenarios, case picking needs to be effectively paired with other methods, such as piece picking, to accommodate the full range of customer requirements. This is particularly relevant for Automated Storage (AS) systems in distribution centers and Third-Party Logistics (3PL) providers who often deal with a diverse range of order sizes, including small quantities for store shipments.

Another implication of case picking is the requirement for substantial storage space. While there's no significant added cost in implementing this strategy from an operational standpoint, the need for large storage areas to accommodate pallets of cases can be a limiting factor, especially in warehouses with limited space. The space must be sufficient not just for storage but also to allow for easy access and movement of goods, which is crucial for maintaining the efficiency that case picking offers.  

What industries can benefit from case picking?  

Case picking is especially beneficial in the retail industry, particularly for distribution centers that supply stores. These centers frequently use case picking for replenishing store inventories, as products are often required and shipped in entire cases. This method suits the bulk and repetitive nature of orders in retail settings, making it an efficient choice for quick and streamlined inventory management.

Case picking suits the bulk and repetitive nature of orders in retail settings, making it an efficient choice for quick and streamlined inventory management.

The AutoStore System & case picking  

AutoStore can be effectively integrated with case picking strategies in warehouse operations. In this setup, high-moving stock keeping units (SKUs) are often stored as full cases outside of the AutoStore Grid. This approach leverages the strengths of both systems: AutoStore efficiently handles smaller, single-item picks within its Grid, while the case picking method is used for bulkier, high-turnover items stored externally.

The integration of these two systems is typically managed through a Warehouse Management System (WMS). The WMS plays a crucial role in consolidating orders, ensuring that items picked individually from the AutoStore system are effectively combined with full cases picked from the external storage. This consolidation process allows for a seamless order fulfillment process, catering to both single-item and bulk orders.  

By combining AutoStore's automated picking capabilities with traditional case picking, warehouses can achieve a high level of efficiency and flexibility. This approach ensures that whether an order requires individual items or full cases, the warehouse is equipped to handle it in the most efficient way possible with warehouse automation.

By combining AutoStore's automated picking capabilities with traditional case picking, warehouses can achieve a high level of efficiency and flexibility.

Complementing Case Picking with Split-Case Picking

While case picking optimizes bulk order fulfillment, certain scenarios demand the flexibility of handling smaller quantities or individual items. This is where split-case picking, also known as piece picking, break pack, or pick-pack, comes into play. Split-case picking involves selecting items in quantities less than a full case, typically for direct-to-customer (DTC), business-to-business (B2B), and store replenishment orders. It's a crucial method for assembling customized orders with precise product quantities, ensuring accurate and efficient delivery. By integrating split-case picking, warehouses can handle a wider variety of order types and sizes, maintaining high efficiency and customer satisfaction. For a detailed exploration of how split-case picking can complement your case picking strategies and enhance retail replenishment, visit our Split-Case Picking article.

Conclusion  

In conclusion, case picking emerges as a crucial strategy in modern warehouse operations, particularly advantageous for its efficiency, reduced labor costs, accuracy in order fulfillment, and faster throughput. It stands distinct from other picking methods like piece or pallet picking, offering a bulk-oriented approach that is especially beneficial in scenarios like distribution centers for retail stores. Implementing case picking requires strategic warehouse layout optimization, appropriate equipment, and effective use of Warehouse Management Systems (WMS). While it brings significant advantages, it also presents challenges, particularly in its suitability for large quantity orders and the need for substantial storage space.

Industries like retail greatly benefit from case picking, as it aligns with the need for bulk and repetitive orders. Moreover, the integration of systems like AutoStore with case picking further enhances operational efficiency, blending automated single-item picking with bulk case handling. This synergy, managed through a WMS, ensures a flexible, efficient, and comprehensive approach to order fulfillment, catering to a diverse range of customer demands and making warehouses more adept at handling the complexities of modern logistics.

FAQ

What is an example of case picking?

An example of case picking would be a department store ordering batches of sweaters. Instead of selecting individual sweaters, the warehouse would pick and ship entire cases containing multiple sweaters to replenish the store's inventory.  

What is the difference between pallet pick and case pick?

The difference between pallet pick and case pick lies in the quantity and scale of the items picked. In pallet picking, entire pallets containing goods are picked and shipped to customers. In contrast, case picking involves selecting smaller units within a pallet, such as individual cases of items, rather than shipping the entire pallet. This method is sometimes referred to as broken pallet picking.

What is broken case picking?

Broken case picking refers to a scenario where it's permissible to open a case and select individual items from it. This is a common practice in manual warehouse environments. It eliminates the need to transfer inventory to shelving locations, allowing items to remain in their original cartons until they are picked as single units.

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