Any business that is involved in the manufacture, sales, and movement of goods and merchandise, regardless of whether these items are for commercial or industrial applications, would most definitely need a storage or warehousing facility. And unless your warehouse is equipped with science fiction-level robotics and automation, your facility would definitely need workforce – lots of it – to run smooth operations.
This is where the costs would pile in. Labor actually accounts for 70% of the warehousing budget for any business on the average. That’s the largest cost there is and it would keep on getting bigger and bigger as the business grows, and warehousing needs along with it. Among the various processes involved in warehousing, order picking stands as the highest cost contributor at 36% of the overall.
But the problem doesn’t end there.
It is an acceptable fact that humanity is not infallible. People make mistakes and it is in their very nature to be so. Warehouse people are no exceptions and they do commit errors particularly when it comes to shelving, picking and packing. Picking is one of the most labor-intensive aspects in the logistics and order fulfillment workflow – and one that is highly prone to errors.
Such errors, particularly major picking blunders, can cost a business tons of money and loss of time, revenue and other resources. In most cases, picking errors remain undiscovered until an inventory recount is conducted and disparities occur. In worst case scenarios, a picking error is discovered after a customer complains and sends an order back.
To run an efficient business with an optimum logistics and order fulfillment process, picking errors should be addressed. The following takes a comprehensive look at the most common picking errors a typical warehousing operations may encounter. The intent is to let you gain a better understanding of why these errors occur and how to address and prevent them.
By resolving and preventing these picking errors, not only will you optimize your warehousing operations, you will also have a huge impact on the overall efficiency of your business, reduction of costs, and most importantly – higher customer satisfaction rates.
The Impact and Implications of Picking Errors
Before proceeding on these explorations on the nature of picking errors and how to address them, it would also be important to note that typical inventory and warehousing operations are not really that accurate and efficient to begin with – unless proper management systems are put in place.
The accuracy levels of typical retail inventory systems are only at the 63% level. Now that’s on the average, and you can only imagine the amount of picking errors a warehouse with no robust systems in place would encounter on a daily basis. The more such occurrences prolong, the more it creates a huge impact on your business revenues, employee morale, and loss of customer confidence.
At these levels, it would be of no wonder why such errors would even occur in the first place, and would continue to do so repeatedly unless drastic changes and improvements are made.
Common Order Picking Errors and How to Avoid Them
There are a myriad reasons why picking errors occur. The situation in one warehouse tied to a certain industry may be different in nature and scale to another warehouse facility for a totally different industry vertical. The key here is to gain a better understanding of why these errors occur, so you can gain better insights on how to address them.
Error #1: Picking a Wrong Item from a Wrong Bin Location
This double whammy of an error can really be considered so absurd. Imagine, an order picker not only gets the wrong item to pick, he actually made the initial error of going to the wrong bin location to begin with. So, whatever items he picked from there would most definitely be wrong – as the right item he is looking for is at somewhere else.
Solution#1: A proper labeling used in conjunction with some automation facilities like barcode scanners, Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and a robust Warehouse Management System (WMS) to keep track and manage everything. Traditional stickers and typical paper-type labels simply won’t cut it. What you need is to level up to an advanced Electronic Shelf Label system like the ESL Solutions from SOLUM. Automation is a surefire way to eliminate or avoid picking errors – and you should start with your labels.
Error #2: Picking a Wrong Item from the Right Bin Location
This error is somewhat more forgivable than the first (but of course any error is not acceptable) as the picker got the bin location right, but made the error in picking the wrong item. The error may lie in a poor labelling system for the bin and the actual item, or the employee did not even bother to check the item he picked up in the first place.
Solution#2: As mentioned earlier, a certain degree of automation can prevent such errors from happening. This include the use of barcode scanners integrated into a WMS system and an ESL solution. More advanced solutions like the Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS) integrated into the WMS can increase pick accuracies by up to 99.99%.
Error #3: Picking a Wrong Item with an SKU similar to the Right Item
The bigger and more items a warehouse have, the greater the number of SKUs their pickers need to handle on a daily basis. SKUs in typical warehouses continue to increase in volume, estimated at 18.5% increase rate and still growing. With such SKU proliferation, the possibility of mispicking a wrong item with an SKU that is very similar to the target SKU is very high, particularly in manual operations.
Solution#3: The use of scanners to verify every item for shelving or picking is a must if you want to eliminate such errors. With a scanner, even if two adjacent items have SKUs that look very similar, you can still pick the right one through scanning. Scanners can be the typical barcode system, or you can use more advanced systems like RFID and Pick-to-Light or Light-Directed Picking systems. Such systems are known to improve productivity by 30% to 50%, and reduce picking error rates by as much as 67% (as compared to manual paper-based systems)
Error #4: Picking the Right Item but the Wrong Quantity
In this error, the bin location and actual item picked is correct, but the picker extracted the wrong quantity, either less or more than the actual quantity ordered. Manual systems with manual counting is prone to such errors.
Solution#4: The use of scanners used in conjunction with a WMS is an effective way not only to verify the right item but the right order quantity as well. This can be better reinforced with actual counting of items as pickers scan the item for recording to the pick ticket.
Error #5: Picking the Right Item but the Wrong Unit of Measure
This error is similar to the previous one, but instead of picking items by quantity, items are picked based on units of measure. This is typical for items ordered in terms on volume (ex: liquids or chemicals) or by weight (ex: raw materials). Such items typically come in packaging with multiple volume or weight options. Errors come in picking an item packaged in a wrong packaging volume or weight.
Solution#5: Items the come in multiple volume or weight option should have an SKU per packaging option. This should be properly integrated in the WMS, so scanners can determine not only the right type but the right volume, weight or unit of measure as well.
Error #6: Picking the Right Item with a Wrong (or missing) Label
Labels per item is very important as these is where the barcodes, RFIDs and other integrated system codes are placed on. There is a possibility that an item with a wrong label is picked, or an item is present or picked without the proper labels.
Solution#6: Pickers should never obtain an item without any kind of labeling. This could mess up your inventory or worse, deliver the wrong item. Scanners integrated into the WMS will also ensure that the employee picks an item with the right label. You can also take advantage of the innovative LED light indicator offered by SOLUM ESL solutions, allowing pickers to easily locate the right item, particularly if your warehouse has a wide array of products.
Error #7: Picking Items with Paper-Based Picking and Labels
Traditional warehouses who still opt to use manual and paper-based systems for their pick list and labels are very prone to errors. For paper-based pick list, it is very tedious and takes a lot of time for pickers to go to the office and have their paper list printed. Not only is it cumbersome but it can also be error-prone, particularly if the wrong list was printed. In a similar manner, the wrong paper labels can be printed and attached to an item or bin – a recipe for disaster.
Solution#7: The most obvious way is to eliminate the use of papers and go on paperless operations. WMS can be integrated and used with mobile apps that can be viewed and used through smartphones or tablet. The information received is updated in real-time, ensuring you get the right data to work with. Warehouses adapting such systems can enjoy up to 25% improvement in their productivity.
Error #8: Picking Items in an Inefficient Order
Picking a single item for one pick run, or picking items in a haphazard, unorganized manner is very inefficient, causing significant loses in time and resources. Just walking around the warehouse for a pick run and manually picking orders can take up as much as 50% of the pickers time. Order fulfillment would take some time and this would result in disgruntled and unhappy customers.
Solution#8: The use of a WMS system used in conjunction with scanners, RFID, IoT and Electronic Shelf Labels could provide you with a pick run workflow that is as efficient as possible. Such systems can also allow the proper coordination of multiple pickers allowing them to work on a big project or fulfillment order.
Error #9: Picking Items with No Traceability to the Picker
Order picking is very labor intensive, and larger warehouses would need several pickers to fulfill orders. The problem with manual systems is such a scenario is that you will not have a good visibility as to the particular picker working on a particular order. You will have no visibility nor traceability to the person who performed a picking, should there be a need to investigate.
Solution#8: Use of automated systems like the WMS and ESL is well-integrated into a centralized network, with information and data updated in real time. With such a system, picker identities can be integrated for better traceability, allowing you to backtrack the history of a particular delivery right down to the picker information and product labelling, readily and very accurately.
The Take Away
There are still many different variations of picking errors and other related issues a typical warehouse may encounter on a daily basis. The key thing to understand here is that old and outdated systems that rely on manual and labor-intensive procedures are not only costly, but are also prone to errors that could spell disaster to business in terms of revenue losses and lost of confidence from the customers.
An efficient warehouse system that encounters very minimal picking errors make use of the latest of what supply chain solutions are available in the market now. These include the use of Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) that are fully-integrated into RFID scanners, Electronic Shelf Labels, Internet of Things (IoT) technologies and other new and upcoming innovations in the near future.
Optimize your warehouse performance with the leading Electronic Shelf Label provider in the market, SOLUM. To learn more about how our ESL solutions can boost productivity in your industrial facility, contact us today.