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10 Oct 2022 | 09:00

An introduction to warehouse order picking automation

Despite the turbulence of the current economic climate, the sector is under immense pressure to maximise output while keeping costs lean. 

It may sound counter-intuitive to invest in new technologies when agility and lowering costs are key priorities for business, but today we’ll explore the options available when it comes to order picking automation, and how these can be implemented in order to optimise benefits not only in order picking, but across the performance dashboard. 

Short on time? Send our free guide to Improving your warehouse order picking with automation, sponsored by WorX Software, direct to your inbox for later. Learn secrets, benefits and tips to make your business more competitive with order picking automation. 

What does warehouse picking involve? 

Manual warehouse order picking sees human order pickers using handheld devices to track and fulfil customer orders. The warehouse floor staff scan and select the items on the warehouse shelves while the system tracks inventory levels and customer orders, generating a picking list that guides the picker through the warehouse. 

In 2020, during the peak of COVID-19, a global ecommerce surge emerged as lockdowns forced retailers to close their doors. Data from Morgan Stanley states that during this time, global e-commerce rose from 15% of total retails sales in 2019, to 21% in 2021 and, at this point in 2022, now sits at an estimated 22% of sales. This placed immense pressure on warehouse staff, especially when we consider that “over 90% of warehouse processes are still manual”, according to studies by Exotec. Given that the UK’s e-commerce market is forecast to grown by nearly 26% through 2025, reaching over £260 billion in transaction value, now is the ideal time to explore the ‘quick wins’ to be had from automating labour intensive warehouse processes like order picking. 

What is automated warehouse order picking? 

Automated warehouse picking systems enhance the work of the human pickers using robotic, or semi-robotic technology. Automation can be used to further reduce errors, release workers from the more tedious elements of their jobs, and optimise everything from storage to retrieval solutions. Automation supports not only increased productivity, but can also lead to a decline in errors and workplace injury, and even more motivated and fulfilled staff members. 

So, what types of warehouse automation are available, and how can they optimise benefits across the performance dashboard? 

The different types of warehouse picking automation

There are a number of different types of warehouse automation available, with the more popular including: 
  • Goods to Person Technology (GTP)

  • Pack-to-Light Systems

  • Voice Assisted Picking 

  • Sortation systems

Goods to person technology

GTP technology uses robots or machines to fetch goods directly to the workers in the warehouse. GTP solutions often include cranes, vehicles, or conveyor systems that travel around the warehouse, carrying out tasks such as storage and retrieval.

The benefits of GTP storage solutions include reducing the amount of walking and retrieval time for warehouse staff, as well as more efficient use of space as the warehouse technology can deliver and pick from much more challenging heights without the risk associated with human pickers. 

Pick-to-light systems and put-to-light systems 

Pick-to-light systems use a series of barcodes and lights to help workers quickly locate the correct items needed to fulfil their orders. Put-to-light systems are similar to pick-to-light systems, but use lights to indicate where items need to be placed, rather than where they are located! This system can help to significantly reduce human errors, which will naturally occur when picking is carried out by humans. It also helps to reduce inefficient picking paths and speed up the location of items. 

Voice picking 

Voice assisted picking and voice tasking adds in a much needed layer of communication between pickers and taskers; helping them to better coordinate the picking and packing requirements. As with pick-to-light and GTP systems, the real benefits of voice picking are felt through the reduction of time spent walking and increasing the speed at which items can be located. 

Sortation systems 

As with GTP and pick-to-light, sortation systems deposit the picked items to their required location, including picking zones. By automating the delivery of items, you are again reducing the amount of time spent navigating the warehouse, reducing the margin of room for error, and also even lifting the amount of tedious sorting work required of your team. 

How to automate warehouse picking 

Unfortunately, automating a warehouse is rarely (and perhaps even never!) a simple case of buying an off-the-shelf solution and installing it. Your unique requirements including cost, stocking protocols, your warehouse layout and size, existing softwares and systems and even your growth plans will all play a big part in deciding what automation solution is the most appropriate for you. 

If you’re unsure of where to start, we suggest considering the following: 

The maturity of your digital transformation

Where does your company stand in terms of automation and digital transformation? If you sit at the more mature end of the scale then order picking automation, if you’re not doing it already, should be next on your list! 

Your current software suite

Does your current software suite suit your growth plans and aspirations? If you think there’s a need to start from scratch, perhaps consider software that will make the entry to automated picking that much easier, such as TagworX

The quality of your barcode and/or RFID technology 

Are you already using a good quality barcode or RFID technology to manage your assets? If not, you might face some challenges as you scale your business and try to integrate automated picking into the mix. How you track stock and manage inventory will have a huge influence on the benefits you stand to gain from automation. 

Your budget 

If cost is your primary barrier to investing in automation, you might be pleased to know that clever strategy could see you reap the benefits of automation without blowing your budget out of the water. Software like TagworX, which is considered a ‘lite’ warehouse management system, still packs a punch! It’s easy to install, and you can access your inventory and asset management data on any device, wherever you are! 

Interested to learn more about TagworX? Book a free demo in minutes

How can The Barcode Warehouse help you? 

We urge you not to stick your (corporate) head in the sand. The strong demand being placed on the warehouse sector isn’t going to go away, and now is the prime time to take full advantage of the opportunities within the market. 

We understand that change, especially digital transformation, can be intimidating, but our team has over 30 years experience helping businesses like yours increase productivity and be more competitive. 

Our friendly team can discuss your unique needs and identify the right technology solutions bespoke to your business. When it comes to the automation of order picking, the payoffs can be almost immediate! 

Ready to unlock your productivity and profitability? Request a demo.

Alternatively, get instant access to our free guide to Improving your warehouse order picking with automation, in partnership with WorX. Learn secrets, benefits and tips to make your business more competitive. 

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