In this week’s Logistics Insights podcast, how warehouse software can optimize cart picking in ways you probably don’t know.

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In this week’s Logistics Insights podcast, how warehouse software can optimize cart picking in ways you probably don’t know.

Cart picking is a mainstay of many distribution centers.

There are many variations of this, but in this program, we are going to focus on piece-picking, not exclusively but commonly used in ecommerce fulfillment applications but also for some retail store orders and more.

Depending on the company, a manual pick cart will be of varying configurations, say 3 x 3 (meaning three levels or shelve on the cart, with three order spots on each level.) It could also be 3 x 4 or other set ups.

Orders are picked and either placed directly into shipping cartons, or more often into a tote. Totes are often used if a company wants to scan each picked item into a shipping carton at a packing station to ensure accuracy. Totes also eliminate the need to determine different carton sizes for each order on the cart.

This set up lends itself to what is called cluster picking, a technique in which the associate goes to a given picking location and selects items for multiple orders on the cart.

So, for example, perhaps five of the orders, as represented by the cartons or totes on the cart, all need a given SKU. As directed by an RF terminal, “lights” below the cart locations, Voice technology, or a printed pick sheet, the picker puts one item in cart spot 3-2 (third level, second slot), then maybe 2-1, then 2-3, etc., until all pick of that SKU needed for orders on the cart are complete. The picker then moves to the next SKU location for which there are orders on the cart, until all orders are complete and the cart is taking to packing.

The benefit: the cart only stops at each pick location one time for multiple orders on the cart, improving productivity.
Straight forward enough, right? Well at the recent MODEX show in Atlanta, Softeon delivered a presentation to a room full of 200 attendees on the “smart, automated warehouse of the future.”

That presentation detailed the level of smarts that can go into even basic cart picking.

First, the orders will be cartonized, determining what products should go into what cartons for multi-carton  orders, following any internal or customer rules. For example, no perfume should be placed in the same carton as apparel items. As another example, some retailers want all the products in a given department to be shipped in one box together.

There is further optimization. Either when the cart is first commissioned, if picking into shipping cartons, or at a downstream packing station, the cartonization software should also identify the right sized carton or cartons that should be used, so that shipping costs are minimized.

But there’s more. After following all internal or customer rules for cartonization, the system should then finalize what goes in each box for multi-carton orders to minimize total travel distance. In other words, group the SKUS so that the number of stops and/or travel distance is minimized.

As we hope is clear, there’s a lot that can go in to basic cart picking. But guess what? There’s a lot more that can be optimized, from order batch size to what we call the “perpetual cart.”

We’ll cover that in part 2 of this podcast series very soon.