TABLE OF CONTENTS
Automation
11
MIN READ
December 14, 2023
December 14, 2023

Batch Picking: A Comprehensive Guide with 7 Best-Practices

Discover the 7 best practices of batch picking in warehouses, including its process, comparisons, pros and cons, and integration with AutoStore technology.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

In the fast-paced world of warehousing and distribution, the efficiency of order fulfillment processes is key to operational success. Batch picking, a strategic approach to order collection, stands out as a pivotal method in this realm.  

This article delves into the intricacies of batch picking, comparing it with other picking methods, exploring its suitability for different business models, and examining the challenges and best practices associated with its implementation. Additionally, the integration of technologies like the AutoStore system in enhancing batch picking processes is highlighted, showcasing how modern solutions are revolutionizing warehouse operations.  

What is batch picking?

Batch picking is a process used in warehouses and distribution centers where a worker collects multiple orders simultaneously during a single pick run. In this method, the worker follows a picking list that includes items from several orders. The items are gathered in a batch and then sorted later into individual orders. This approach differs from picking one complete order at a time, and it aims to increase efficiency by reducing the number of trips a picker has to make around the warehouse.  

Let’s have a look at how batch picking works in practice.

Batch picking is a process used in warehouses and distribution centers where a worker collects multiple orders simultaneously during a single pick run.

Batch picking in practice: The book distribution example  

Here’s an example of how batch picking works through the lens of a book distribution warehouse.

  • Order aggregation (bookstore orders): The warehouse receives several orders from different bookstores. Each order lists various titles. The warehouse management system (WMS) combines these orders into a single batch. For instance, if multiple bookstores order copies of "Book A" and "Book B," these are grouped together into "Book A batch" and "Book B batch".
  • Batch list creation (optimized picking path): The WMS creates a batch picking list that includes all the required titles, e.g. one picking list for Book A Batch, and another picking list for Book B batch.
  • Picking assignment (warehouse worker’s role): The warehouse worker, known as the picker, is assigned the batch list by the WMS. If the warehouse operates with an AutoStore, the WMS will direct them to first collect "Book A" from one inventory Bin presentation, then "Book B" from another, and so on. If the warehouse is manual, the WMS will direct them to first collect "Book A" from one aisle, then "Book B" from another aisle.
  • Picking: The worker picks the required quantities of each book as indicated by the WMS. If the warehouse is automated with AutoStore, the system will present inventory to the picker, who will place the books into separate containers. For example, if "Book A" is requested by three bookstores, they pick three copies of "Book A". If the next step is automated with mobile robots, the picker places the books directly on robots for automatic sortation.
  • Sorting and order fulfillment (sorting books into orders): After picking all the required books, the worker brings them to a sorting station. Here, the batch of books is divided into individual orders – for instance, one order might include "Book A" and "Book C," while another has "Book B" and "Book D". As mentioned above, this step can also be automated. For example, instead of placing books in containers and doing the sortation manually, the books can be immediately placed on mobile robots who automatically sorts the books into separate containers. Once robots or manual workers have sorted the batch into individual orders, they can be packed and prepared for shipping.
  • Quality checks (ensuring order accuracy): A quality check is conducted to ensure each order is complete and accurate. This step is crucial to avoid errors like missing titles or incorrect quantities.
  • Packaging and dispatch (shipping to bookstores): Once sorted and checked, each order is packaged. The orders are then dispatched to their respective bookstores, completing the batch picking process.

To fully understand the concept of batch picking, comparing it to its counterparts - other picking methods - is crucial to get the full picture.

Batch picking compared to other picking methods

In warehouse operations, selecting the right picking method is essential for efficiency and productivity. Batch picking, individual order picking, wave picking, zone picking, and case picking each have unique characteristics that suit different operational needs. Let’s dive into each of the picking methods and how they compare to the batch picking method.  

How does batch picking differ from individual order picking?

As briefly introduced, batch picking consolidates order lines from multiple orders, improving picks per storage location. This method enhances efficiency, for example in systems like AutoStore, by increasing picks per Bin presentation. Batch picking necessitates later sorting of items, using systems like put-walls or sorters. This method is more efficient than individual order picking, where each Bin presentation represents a single order line. However, it should be noted that batch pickingbut requires sophisticated software for managing the flow of batches.

The AutoStore system, especially with its FusionPort feature, significantly streamlines the batch picking process in warehouses.

How does batch picking differ from wave and zone picking?  

Wave Picking: Wave picking schedules picking activities into distinct waves based on criteria like shipping times. Unlike batch picking, which groups similar items, wave picking doesn't inherently group order lines.

Zone Picking: Zone picking divides the warehouse into zones, with pickers responsible for specific areas. They pick items within their zone for multiple orders, in contrast to batch picking, where pickers may travel throughout the warehouse.  

How does batch picking compare to case picking?

Case picking involves selecting entire cases or boxes of products, often used for larger orders or when products are pre-packaged. Unlike batch picking, which might involve collecting varied individual items, case picking is typically less complex in terms of sorting post-pick. Batch picking can be more time-consuming due to the need to gather various individual items and later sort them, whereas case picking generally involves handling larger, pre-sorted units.

Through these comparisons, we see that batch picking's strength lies in its ability to group orders for efficiency, though it requires additional steps for sorting. In contrast, individual order picking is simpler but less efficient, while wave and zone picking focus on scheduling and area-specific tasks, respectively. Case picking stands out for its handling of larger, pre-packaged units, offering a different efficiency in certain operational contexts.  

So, when is it relevant to consider batch picking over other picking methods, and for what industries is batch picking a wise choice?

Case picking involves selecting entire cases or boxes of products, often used for larger orders or when products are pre-packaged.

When to consider batch picking (industries)

Batch picking is particularly effective for businesses that align with certain operational profiles:

  • E-commerce platforms: Ideal for e-commerce businesses due to the high volume of orders and variety of products, batch picking facilitates the efficient handling of multiple items per order.  
  • High volume of similar SKUs: Businesses with many orders containing similar SKUs, especially those with a significant portion of high-demand items, can benefit greatly from batch picking. This is often seen in industries with strong 'A' category items in their inventory.
  • High throughput requirements: Operations that need to process a large number of orders quickly, such as fast-paced retail or distribution centers, find batch picking advantageous for its efficiency in reducing travel time within the warehouse.  

In summary, batch picking is best suited for environments with diverse product ranges and high order volumes, particularly in e-commerce and situations where reducing picker travel time is crucial.

Operations that need to process a large number of orders quickly, such as fast-paced retail or distribution centers, find batch picking advantageous for its efficiency in reducing travel time within the warehouse.

Pros and cons of batch picking  

Batch picking offers several benefits but also presents unique challenges. Understanding these can help your business evaluate its suitability for your specific needs.

Pros of batch picking

  • Increased efficiency: By collecting items for multiple orders simultaneously, batch picking reduces the number of trips a picker must make, enhancing overall operational efficiency.  
  • Reduced picker travel time: This method significantly cuts down on the distance that pickers need to traverse within the warehouse, saving time and energy.
  • Optimized for high-volume operations: As mentioned, especially beneficial for businesses with high order volumes, such as e-commerce platforms, where orders often contain a variety of items.  

Cons of batch picking

  • Decreased performance later in shifts: A notable challenge is the potential depletion of batch potential as a shift progresses. Early in the shift, high batches allow for efficient grouping, but later waves may have less grouping potential, leading to a notable performance decrease.  
  • Increased workforce requirements for sorting: Although batch picking might reduce movement in item collection, it could increase movement if a putwall or similar sorting system is used. This additional movement isn't necessarily negative but depends on the nature and extent of the movements required.
  • Complexity in planning and software requirements: Effective batch picking requires sophisticated software to manage order profiles and batch flows, adding complexity to the planning and operational processes.  
  • Necessity for sorting post-picking: Unlike methods where items are directly picked into their final shipping container, batch picking requires an additional sorting step, adding time and complexity to the process.  

To sum up, batch picking offers efficiency and reduced travel time, making it ideal for high-volume operations. However, it also brings challenges like decreased performance over time and complex sorting requirements. Weighing these pros and cons is obviously essential for deciding if batch picking is the right fit for your specific warehouse environment.

7 Best practices for implementing successful batch picking

Implementing batch picking in a warehouse environment requires careful planning and understanding of your operations. Here are some best practices to ensure effective batch picking:  

  1. Understand your assortment and order profile: A deep understanding of your product assortment and order profile is crucial. Be aware of how changes in the order profile, possibly due to sales or marketing campaigns or new assortments, can impact the efficiency of your batch picking strategy. If the order profile no longer supports batch picking, efficiency can be compromised.
  2. Regularly review order profile: Regularly analyze your order profile to understand how it affects the batches you are building. This involves tracking changes over time and adjusting your strategies accordingly.  
  3. Communicate with key departments: Maintain open communication with departments that influence the assortment, such as sales, marketing, and inventory management. Their decisions can directly impact the order profile, and hence, the efficiency of your batch picking process.
  4. Innovative approaches for single order line orders: For orders with a single line and a quantity of one, group all similar orders together. Pick these in a group and place all items in one large container. This container can then be taken to the packing station where individual items are scanned, packed, and dispatched. This approach eliminates the need for sorting, significantly boosting productivity for these types of orders.  
  5. Leverage technology and software: Utilize advanced warehouse management systems (WMS) and other technologies that can optimize batch picking processes. These tools can help in efficiently creating batch lists, tracking order profiles, and adjusting operations in real-time based on changing data.
  6. Continuous training and feedback: Ensure your picking staff is well-trained in batch picking techniques. Regular feedback sessions can help identify areas for improvement and adapt strategies as needed.  
  7. Flexibility in operations: Be prepared to adjust batch picking strategies as per changing business needs. Flexibility is key to dealing with varying order volumes, seasonal changes, and other market dynamics.

By adhering to these best practices, warehouses can implement batch picking effectively, leading to increased efficiency, faster order processing, and overall improved operational performance.  

Batch picking offers several benefits but also presents unique challenges. Understanding these can help your business evaluate its suitability for your specific needs.

Optimizing batch picking: Integrating AutoStore technology

The AutoStore system, especially with its FusionPort feature, significantly streamlines the batch picking process in warehouses. This innovative system is adept at handling both source and multiple target Bins, a key feature that seamlessly aligns with the batch picking methodology. The FusionPort is designed for easy integration with conveyor systems, ensuring the smooth and efficient movement of Bins, which is a critical component of successful batch picking.  

Further enhancing the process, the AutoStore system incorporates the use of transfer cells. These cells are crucial for the post-picking phase, efficiently relocating the source tote to a custom workstation equipped with multiple targets. This facilitates a more streamlined sorting process, a vital step in batch picking operations.

In the realm of robotic picking performance, the AutoStore system is particularly effective. It is designed to support batch picking, particularly when the items are suitable for robotic piece-picking. The system enables more picks per Bin presentation, which translates into fewer Bin exchange interventions, thereby boosting Robot efficiency and overall throughput.  

Complementing the AutoStore system, technologies like Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) and Radio Frequency (RF) scanning are indispensable in the batch picking process. The WMS plays a critical role in forming efficient batches by analyzing order profiles and inventory data, ensuring that the grouping of orders is optimized for maximum efficiency. Meanwhile, RF scanning technology is key to maintaining accuracy and speed, aiding in the quick identification and verification of items during the picking process, thus reducing errors and enhancing operational efficiency.

Together, the AutoStore system, with its advanced sorting and picking capabilities, and the precision of WMS and RF scanning technologies, form a cohesive and robust framework. This integration optimizes batch picking operations in modern warehouses by ensuring efficiency in the sorting and picking processes while maintaining accuracy and speed in order fulfillment.  

Conclusion

Throughout this exploration of batch picking, it becomes evident that this method is not just a technique but a comprehensive strategy requiring careful consideration and planning. From understanding the nuances that differentiate it from other picking methods to recognizing the ideal scenarios for its application, batch picking emerges as a powerful tool in the arsenal of warehouse management.  

The key lies in balancing its inherent advantages, such as increased efficiency and reduced travel time, with the challenges it presents, like the need for sophisticated software and sorting mechanisms. By embracing best practices and leveraging advanced technologies like the AutoStore system, warehouses can effectively implement batch picking, leading to optimized operations and enhanced productivity in today's demanding market landscape.

FAQ

What is the difference between zone picking and batch picking?

Zone picking involves dividing a warehouse into zones with workers picking items within their designated zone. In contrast, batch picking involves a worker collecting items from multiple orders in a single trip across various zones.  

What are the disadvantages of batch picking?

The disadvantages of batch picking include the need for additional sorting post-picking, potential performance decrease later in shifts, and the requirement for sophisticated software to manage and optimize the picking process.

What is an example of a batch order?

An example of a batch order is a warehouse worker collecting books for multiple bookstore orders in one trip. They might pick several copies of different titles based on combined orders, which are later sorted into individual bookstore orders.  

How can I improve my batch picking?

To improve batch picking, regularly analyze and adjust your order profiles, maintain open communication with departments influencing inventory, utilize advanced warehouse management systems for efficient batch creation, and continuously train staff on batch picking techniques.

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