Warehouses are an integral part of most industries—but order fulfillment can take a lot longer than is strictly necessary if your picking and packaging processes aren’t as efficient as they could be. Just half a percent of picking mistakes can lead to losses in profits, as well as customer losses. If you’re trying to make your process more efficient, here is a quick guide to help you improve the picking and packaging stages of order fulfillment.
Take a Look at Your Process
How long has it been since you updated your picking and packaging process? Take a close look at both your process—how you train your employees—and what is actually happening in your warehouse. Chances are if it’s been a while since you’ve updated your process, your employees have found better or more efficient ways to do things. Consider updating your how-to manual with the new processes that your employees have developed. They’re on your front lines when it comes to picking and packaging, and it’s a good idea to listen to them.
Touch It Once
Do your pickers pull items from the shelf and put them into a bin to be sorted and packaged later? This can lead to lower efficiency and can lead to shipping errors when the wrong item gets put into a customer’s box. Instead of picking into a bin and potentially mixing up a customer’s order, set up the system so your pickers are picking items directly into their shipping boxes. Then all you have to do is close, label and send, reducing the number of possible hiccups in the system.
Rely on Digital Labels
Printing sticky labels, peeling them and placing them on their shipping packages is so 20th century. Digital printing enables you to do all of that with a couple of keystrokes, printing the customer’s address, your return address, and even your logo or other design right onto the shipping box.
Digital presses have been growing exponentially in recent years. In 2017, for the first time in history, sales of digital presses exceeded those of standard traditional presses, with the digital side of things growing by 11.9 percent while the conventional printing press industry declined by 9 percent.
Retooling your factory so it can accommodate digital printing can be an expensive and time-consuming task, but it can increase your overall picking and packaging efficiency dramatically.
Bottlenecks in your process can compromise efficiency and productivity. Problems, like moving products between stations, or being out-worked by an automated system, can make it hard to keep things moving smoothly. Take the time to look over your entire picking and packaging operation to see if you can identify any bottlenecks that might be occurring. Once you’ve identified these, they are easier to correct to make your process as efficient as possible.
Practice Fixing Mistakes
Mistakes in the picking and packaging system are the biggest cause of efficiency problems. Time is either wasted trying to correct the mistake before the package is shipped, or once the incorrect package has been returned to your facility by a dissatisfied customer. The trick here is to practice fixing mistakes when they occur. This will include everyone on your picking and packaging teams. Figure out where mistakes are most likely to happen, with the goal of catching the problems before they reach the shipping station which is your last chance to fix a problem before it gets shipped to the customer.
Redesign your Warehouse
Do you have all of your inventory organized in alphabetical order or by SKU number? While this might make sense in some warehouses, chances are you have some items that are ordered more frequently than others. Instead of keeping everything in perfectly numbered order, reorganize your warehouse so that the top-selling items are near the packaging station. Move from top-selling to least selling, with the latter being the furthest from the packaging station. That way your pickers aren’t wasting time running all over the warehouse to put together a customer’s order.
As long as there are humans picking and packaging items, there will occasionally be mistakes. The goal of increasing your warehouse efficiency is to reduce the number of mistakes that happen and come up with ways to correct them. An efficient business is a successful business because you waste less time on correcting mistakes and spend less money shipping corrected orders if you take the time to get it right in the first place.
Adam Robinson oversees the overall marketing strategy for Cerasis .