right_division Green SCM Distribution
Bookmark us
SCDigest Logo

About the Author

Cliff Holste is Supply Chain Digest's Material Handling Editor. With more than 30 years experience in designing and implementing material handling and order picking systems in distribution, Holste has worked with dozens of large and smaller companies to improve distribution performance.

Logistics News

By Cliff Holste

July 30, 2014

Key To Lowering Cost – Deploy A Combination Of Manual & Automated Picking Methods

Stationary Pick & Pack Methods Outperform Walk & Pick Operation

Holste Says:

Deploying a combination of manual and automated order fulfillment methods may be the key to obtaining the lowest overall operating cost.
What Do You Say?

Click Here to Send Us Your Comments
Click Here to See Reader Feedback

Previous Columns by Cliff Holste

Sorting It Out: Shippers Looking To Increase System Capacity Are Surprised To Find It May Already Exist!

Sorting It Out: For Shippers - Benefits Of Real-Time Control In The DC Are Huge!

Sorting It Out: Shippers Looking to Improve Operations Choose Customer Centric Approach

Sorting It Out: Productivity is a Crucial Factor in Measuring Production Performance

Sorting It Out: Packaging Construction Impacts on Logistics Operations


At a time when the focus is on adopting more automated processes in the DC, it’s important for system planners and managers not to lose sight of the benefits improving manual picking methods can provide. For example, in discrete order fulfillment operations that ship product to the same locations on a recurring basis, Product-to-Person technologies may offer a greater range of control, accuracy, and efficiency at a minimum cost.

In a typical Product-to-Person system (also referred to as put system) instead of pickers frequently walking past products that are not needed, lift truck drivers retrieve containers and/or pallet loads of required products and delivered them to a put order fulfillment zone. Each zone is equipped to serve several different store/customer orders. The operator assigned to that zone is directed to “pick and pack” the required quantity of the product into customer specific, bar coded shipping cartons. RF scanning, Put-to-Light, and Voice Directed technologies (or some Multi-Modal combination thereof) can be used to direct the operator and to insure inventory and order fulfillment accuracy.

In large facilities (+300K sq. ft.) it may be cost effective to deploy some type of integrated mechanized or automated delivery system, i.e., Conveyors, Automatic Storage & Retrieval System (ASRS), or Automatic Guided Vehicle (AGV) network.

The Simplicity of Computer Directed Put Systems Yield Many Benefits

The major benefits associated with put systems include greatly reduced picker walk time which equates to higher picker productivity, and increased product storage capacity. In a put configuration, required products are brought to the operator. Therefore, the order fulfillment staff does not need to travel throughout the facility. Further, by eliminating dedicated pick faces there is no need for slotting and re-slotting.

Batch picked items are directed to a consolidation/sort area, which employs a put type system. Here case/item quantities are distributed across multiple positions following the display unit “put to” instructions, thus building discrete orders in their respective pack locations.

Adjacent picture is of a custom engineered put system designed by ABCO Automation LLC

There are several well established standardized Product-to-Person systems that are available such as, horizontal carousels, vertical carousels, vertical lift modules, mini-load ASRS, and Automatic Guided Vehicle (AGV) which can virtually eliminate all picker travel time.


Note: In the past few years a new generation of AGVs has come to market with flexibility improvements that make them much more suitable for DC deployment including case (and piece) order picking as well as basic transport functions. These advances include much more sophisticated controls, allowing flexible and dynamic movement paths, and in some cases “optical” guidance systems that enhance flexibility and safety.

Pick rates for put systems are typically higher than conventional discrete order picking systems where there is a pick face for every SKU. Based on industry statics operations that migrated to put order fulfillment can increase picking rates from 1.5 to 3 times depending on the system configuration.

However, while a put system may be great for slow movers, it may not be ideal for fast movers. Still, based on the Pareto Curve, where 20% of the SKUs equate to 80% of the volume, improving picker productivity for the remaining 80% of the SKUs would most likely prove to be a good investment strategy.

In some cases distributors are deploying horizontal carousels to handle slow movers. For example - Coty Inc., the world’s largest fragrance company, found that while its 900 slowest moving SKUs amounted to only about 2 percent of total volume, they led to substantial bottlenecks in order processing. Coty implemented two 65 foot long, five-shelf, light-directed horizontal carousels, which led to much more effective picking operations and storage density for those slow movers.

It is noteworthy that carousels are used extensively in service parts distribution – an environment often characterized by huge numbers of mostly slow moving SKUs. Logistics Consultants, Industry Experts, and/or System Integrators can do the ROI analysis.


Light-Directed Put Sortation System

Put-to-light and/or Pack-to-Light are variations of put order fulfillment systems. Put-to-light commonly refers to the distribution of a product across multiple locations, where each location contains a pallet load, container or tote that is associated to an order. Pack-to-light is more specific because it implies that the location holds the shipping container that is delivered to the store/customer.

Final Thoughts

While put systems offer excellent benefits for many general merchandise distributors, automated technologies that bring products to the picker/packer can provide enhanced benefits for specific operations. It does not have to be an either or situation. Deploying a combination of manual and automated order fulfillment methods may be the key to obtaining the lowest overall operating cost.


Recent Feedback


No Feedback on this article yet