eCommerce and Piece Picking Operations

January 19, 2010 BY LIDD

Small, piece-picked orders packed in totes or cartons.  Thousands of them.  LIDD has done it and can help you.

High-volume piece picking operations are often the most complex distribution centers to design and subsequently manage.   Not only are there additional labor functions/activities associated with these operations, such as stocking, packaging and cardboard/waste management, but labor productivity can be substantially affected by the organizing logic used to create work assignments within each labor function:

  • Putaway of small receipts – where the size of a given purchase order line amounts to less than a pallet layer – can generate excessive fork moves unless organized through information technology to putaway multiple purchase orders in a single trip
  • Whereas full case operations have replenishment from reserve directly into pick locations, piece pick operations often require intermediary, temporary reserve locations from which stock replenish the pick slots.  Without proper information support, the stocking function can become labor-intensive and a source of bottlenecks
  • Picking assignments – whether batch or group picking multiple small orders – must be generated using algorithms that organize them to minimize travel by creating sets of “like-travelled” orders that call upon the same areas of a pick line
  • Congestion and workload balancing are both common problems with which piece picking operations struggle.   Often, operators accept “lowest common denominator” productivity to work around these problems which otherwise could be solved by a combination of better work assignment strategies and materials handling systems

Since early 2010, LIDD has worked with a number of piece pick operations, including:

  • Expansion of a cooler for North America’s premier eCommerce grocer with the introduction of a unique picking method that boosts throughput and labor productivity without the need for significant capital investment
  • Design of a new distribution center for an eCommerce retailer of specialty wines in California
  • Operations audit of a mail order/eCommerce distributor of fine foods in New England
  • Design and implementation of a productivity improvement program for a piece pick operation serving grocery wholesale accounts with specialty foods, general merchandise and health/beauty care
  • Development of a bottle pick operation for a wine and spirits distributor in Canada
  • Design of a new distribution center for spare parts and fixtures  supporting one of the largest transit systems in North America