Techniques of Order Picking for Warehouse Productivity

Written By Lim Yoon Chin, DLSM

by Lim Yoon Chin, DLSM

In a typical warehouse, order picking is the most manual, labor-intensive, and costly operation. It can account up to 60% of the operation costs. Companies tend to focus on this area first because various improvement can positively impact their customer’s experience. This means that warehouse picking involves workers picking items from cartons on warehouse shelves and placing them into boxes for shipment to customers. Picking requires great contract of coordination, organization, and thoroughness in order to move the pickers through warehouses smoothly for them to fill the maximum number of orders in the shortest time.

Warehouse managers frequently search for strategies to restructure the picking process because it can be time-consuming and costly if not done as efficiently to maximize productivity. However, they also feel pressured to enhance picking practices to meet and exceed customer expectations, as both picking speed and accuracy affect customer’s satisfactory.

There are several picking strategies for distribution center to boost their order picking performance and increase productivity. The picture below shows a typical warehouse that requires space to store products safely until they are shipped, as well as the need for an effective and accurate system to track inventory until it is finally delivered.

Warehouse Efficiency

Warehouse efficiency is then improved when items are allocated to the correct storage media. Taking example if all operators have wet paint on their hands, then the optimized warehouse has the minimal number of fingerprints on the boxes. Taking fingerprints off the boxes means the warehouse has been set up to minimize product handling.

The first basic principle to be adhered to is to ensure items are stored in the appropriate storage media. Having slow moving SKUs in pallet racks is as wasteful as having fast moving SKUs in shelving bins. We make this decision based on a variable which is the cube movement velocity, it is used to measure the volume of movement for each SKU. The cube movement velocity = movement in units x cubic dimensions of the unit. Measuring this metric for every SKU provides a significant way to ensure that products are being handled within the most appropriate storage media. High cube movement belongs in racking and low cube movement can be assigned to smaller storage media formats.

Eliminate Walking and Fatigue for more Accurate Picks

We need to minimize movement such as reduce walking around a warehouse as high chances of mistake occur when a person is regardless physically or mentally tired. By decreasing the amount of movement will aid in faster and more accurate picking.

Warehouse layout and design is another factor which aids maximizing efficiency, order accuracy and increase productivity of a warehouse. To minimize the walking made by employees. Your storage and pick strategies will have direct effect on this. Instead of using manual picking and random storage strategy, switching to a zone-based picking system and volume or class-based storage systems can allow you to minimize trips.

The pick and pack process is highly complex, and its success eventually depends on getting a number of factors right. Factors such as the design of your warehouse, the technology and tools you use, how items in your warehouse are stored, the routes your order pickers take through the warehouse, your order picking strategy, how you pack, stage and prepare your order-along with multiple other factors-all play a role in whether your pick and pack process result in a properly fulfilled order and a happy customer.

Organize workstations

Organizing workstations improves productivity because workers do not have to search for tools or equipment. Using the “5S” method from lean manufacturing to ensure your workstations are as organized as possible. It consists of Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardize; and Sustain. All these techniques are designed to keep clutter at bay, reduce errors, and improve safety and organization.

Adopt Enabling Technology

A warehouse management system (WMS) or an ERP system with a strong WMS module can improve efficiency by suggesting the best routes and methods for picking or put-away. In addition, the system provides automated pick lists that can be sent to mobile readers and devices to help eliminate mistakes and reduce wasted time and paper. In such case, your warehouse will be neater and greener. Using barcode or radio frequency identification (RFID) readers can improve the accuracy of transactions, and reduce picking errors.

The picture below shows the WMS is used to control and track the transfer and storage of materials in a warehouse to ensure data transparency throughout the company. This also includes inventory management, picking processes and auditing.

Considering a Different Picking Strategy

Most company begin with manual piece picking, however, as they grow they find that this strategy cannot accommodate high volume in the warehouse. Looking at zone, batch and wave picking, along with some level of automation is a logical progression to support future growth and efficiency.

Supply Chain Ads

In a pick-to-light system, an operator will scan a bar-coded label attached to a box. A digital display located in front of the pick bin will inform the operator of the item and quantity that they need to pick. Companies usually use pick-to-light systems for their top 5 to 20% selling products. This system help companies can gain significant efficiencies as it is totally paperless and eliminates the errors caused by pick tickets.

pick-to-light system

The picture above show the pick-to-light system.

Voice picking system informs the operator of pick instructions through a headset. The pick instructions are sent via RF from the company’s ERP or order management software. The system allows operators to perform pick operations without looking at a computer screen or deal with paper pick tickets. World Class warehouse operations have adopted voice picking to complement the pick-to-light systems in place for their fast-moving products.

Although many companies will not be able to afford new technologies for picking, we’ve seen here that there are a number of best practices that can be adopted to improve efficiency and reduce cost.


The picture above shows an operator using voice picking system to hears and respond to interactive voice cues by a lightweight headset, which is attached to a wearable pick by voice computer.

Pareto Principle for Warehouse Efficiency

We need to apply for the 80/20 rule, or the Pareto Principle that 80% of the effects come from 20% of causes and this is true in warehouse as well. Thus, 80% of the orders are likely to come from 20% of the stock. Thus, if these items are stored and controlled in the most efficient manner then it helps to maximize the overall productivity.
Remarkable efficiency can be gained by grouping together the 20 percent of your SKUs that complete 80 percent of your orders. This cuts down on travel time for your pickers. However, the 80/20 area must be properly designed to accommodate high-volume activity.


Receiving, transfer and put away, order picking, cross-docking, and shipping is the main warehouse activities. Among these activities, order picking is the most labor-intensive and costly activity for most warehouses, which approximately 55% of the total warehouse operating expenses are related to order picking operations. This explains that improving the order-picking efficiency is crucial. As it aids in reducing supply chain costs and improve productivity in the warehouse.

Therefore, efficient and well-run order picking is one of the most important functions in a warehouse that is needed to be reviewed and revised periodically for optimum performance and meeting customer’s satisfaction.

By achieving high throughput rates, it is necessary to implement safe processes and save time where is it possible. Thus, efficient order picking is a key in this aspect.

Pick-by-voice and pick-by-light gives a free restriction at the order picking workplaces, regardless of involving in “goods-to-person” or “person-to-goods” processes. In addition, palletizing, de-palletizing and picking robots does help to raise the productivity ominously in conjunction with suitable warehouse processes while also minimizing error rates.


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About the Author: Jean Lim Yoon Chin has substantive years of experiences in the field of production control planning, specifically in the technology sector. Jean is a member of the Singapore Institute of Purchasing and Materials Management (SIPMM) and completed the Diploma in Logistics and Supply Management (DLSM) course in March 2018 at SIPMM Academy.