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The Pros and Cons of Zone Picking

Time to read: 5 minutes

Productivity and fulfillment accuracy are key performance metrics in today’s modern distribution facilities. Knowing the proper order or, more critically, choosing the right products becomes a crucial factor in your company’s overall productivity.

Your warehouse operations can determine the efficiency of your entire supply chain. Therefore, optimizing every warehouse management component and the order-picking process is necessary if you want an effective and responsive supply chain. Businesses frequently do this by implementing effective warehouse-picking techniques like zone picking.

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Zone picking is often compared to an assembly line. Product pickers are responsible for selecting SKUs in particular warehouse regions. This workforce is specifically assigned to only those areas of the warehouse.

By keeping pickers in designated zones, zone picking aims to minimize picker travel. zone picking, often known as the “pick and pass” system, is frequently organized so that only one warehouse staff is allotted to each zone every shift.

How Does Zone Picking Work? 

Each picker is often assigned to a zone and only selects SKUs from that zone to satisfy orders. There are two main types of zone picking: sequential and simultaneous.

Zones are typically large enough to contain one or two order pickers’ worth of picks. Companies must implement “quick-pick regions” close to a conveyor belt to achieve high productivity in zone picking. Large operations with high total SKUs & orders and low to moderate picks per order are best suited for zone picking. Separate zones enable picking processes to be specialized. Placing automated material handling devices in one zone and manual handling in another.

Sequential Zone picking

A single picker handles all the items in one zone of the warehouse. As the picking from the previous zone is finished, orders are transferred from one area to the next. In a more manual operation, the picker passes the remaining orders from the wave to the following picker in a different part of the warehouse. Conveyor systems can also be employed to carry orders from zone to zone.

Simultaneous Zone picking

Pickers work in the same order simultaneously in several warehouse zones (areas). Once item selection in the zones is finished, all the products are combined and/or repacked downstream. Picking delays brought on by hold-ups in a specific location or by a bottleneck in the packing can be solved by simultaneous zone picking.

Faster picking speed is a common goal of zone picking. Zone selection also enables skill-based specialization. Fork truck drivers may be assigned to a section that only contains bulky things that require lifting. In addition to having a possible good impact on staff morale, zone picking can help reduce operator fatigue. This is achieved with shorter travel distances between items, and pickers are encouraged to take pride in and ownership of their local region.

Possible Challenges of Zone picking 

There are some drawbacks to zone picking, as no system is ever perfect. These cons can help you consider an alternative or a combination of picking strategies.

Multiple Touchpoints

Picked items move between several zones and arrive at the station for sorting and packing before being shipped off. More touches increase the possibility of human error. Direct picking into shipping cartons can also aid in lowering touches and improving accuracy.

Companies can retrieve products in the same order from multiple separate zones in simultaneous picking. These items will need to be bundled before delivery. Sorting adds another step in the fulfillment process, which could extend delivery lead times.

 Difficulty In Pinpointing Errors

Identifying the employees who made mistakes will be more challenging because of increased variability in the number of touches. You could combine zone picking with another picking technique to resolve this. Otherwise, warehouse managers could waste time looking for mistakes. However, if you are confident in the accuracy of your orders, this error-tracing issue is far less important.

Single Scheduling Period

There can only be one scheduling period per shift when using zone picking. This is helpful for warehouse managers in developing effective shift plans. But keep in mind that it also necessitates that all incoming orders have a set cutoff time. Orders placed after that time must be held until the following shift. This can effectively lengthen the time consumers take to receive their orders.

Workload Inequality

Workers in other zones may be idle if orders during one picking window are significantly biased toward items in other zones. That might negate some of the benefits of zone picking. Additionally, picking is a physically demanding task. Pickers in high-traffic areas may experience greater fatigue than coworkers in slower zones.

The Impact of Zone picking

zone picking benefits can be summed up as increased warehouse productivity for large-scale enterprises. Though it can work for businesses of all sizes, zone picking frequently works best in large warehouses with diverse product types.

Increased Flexibility

zone picking is effective for warehouse operations where client demands change frequently and quickly. Zone selection allows for numerous processes in each zone, which is why this kind of flexibility works effectively. This is true for product groups, where a zone picking system could group procedures by product. It could then be implemented throughout the entire warehouse.

Employee Expertise

Employees are expected to become more conscious of their area of responsibility when the scope of work is focused on a single zone. This is because there is less information to remember and less time to familiarize themselves with particular items. This increased awareness is helpful whenever there might be a problem or uncertainty regarding that specific zone.

Faster Picking Speed

The total walking distance for picking activities tends to be shorter when zone picking is used. Workers are assigned to smaller areas of a warehouse. They can select multiple orders at once without going on to the next zone. Additionally, the personnel’s increased awareness of their specific zone speeds up picking for every given SKU or item.

Higher Picking Accuracy

The zone picking method may show improvements in order picker accuracy and picking speed for personnel. Zone selection calls for a simpler combination of fewer criteria inside a single zone. Complex combination orders no longer need to be acquired from different zones in various warehouse locations. 

Every zone selection technique is different because of warehouse configurations. All warehouse operation components affect your picking strategy, including the layout, tools, workers, and product mix. 

If you commit to zone picking, you must choose how many zones to segment and how to separate them. Zones may be divided by sales based on volume, product type, or even warehouse location. Always remember that efficiency should be improved while balancing the workload among zones.

The best practices for zone picking are similar to those for standard piece-picking. There are several important factors to take into account. Warehouse managers should prioritize efficiency over anything else when using these picking techniques.  This efficiency results in increased capacity and even fewer quality problems. For a large-scale warehouse, breadth and quality are typically the hardest variables to measure. To achieve this, reducing touchpoints, order processing time, and walking distance must be implemented.

The solution can be as simple as positioning high-turnover inventory locations close to the packing station or a work order station. Of course, it always helps to maintain a clutter-free, safe, and tidy work environment.

Modern large-scale warehouses use warehouse management systems (WMS). These unified systems control warehouse picking processes and are typically cloud-based. A warehouse management system is necessary if you are serious about zone picking.

Digitally scanning items as they are received and moving through each zone is an incredibly effective way to use a warehouse order-picking system. Errors are easier to track this way. For the WMS to automatically transfer material from segment to segment, this necessitates installing individual barcode scanners at particular checkpoints.

The WMS of choice must be capable of automating the SKU warehouse slotting. The software then instructs staff where to position each SKU per the logistics manager’s specified criteria.

It’s also advisable to replace manual handling tools and carts with automated devices like conveyors for boxes, totes, and bins to support the digitization process. This machinery links the various areas of the warehouse, speeding up container transfers. High-turnover products are typically kept close to the automated machinery in warehouse designs. This speeds up the flow of the commodities to the workspace, where the orders will be combined and packaged.

Order picking affects a large chunk of labor expenses at the warehouse. Because order-picking costs significantly impact revenue, warehouse managers always seek cost-efficient strategies. zone picking, when done correctly, can reduce labor expenses associated with picking. It is also considered an excellent process for big warehouses with many SKUs.

ZhenHub gives you the tools to implement zone picking into your operations successfully. Manage your inventory remotely, and work with logistics experts through our global warehousing partners. Sign-up and get access to our digital shipping software.

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