Did you know that roughly half of a picker’s time is spent walking from one bin or storage area to another? With such tremendous time allocation spent on one facet of the picker’s job, it’s important to maximize their efficiency and improve overall fulfillment production in the warehouse. In order to stay on top of competition as a leader in omnichannel order fulfillment, learning strategies to keep a warehouse as efficient as possible is critical. Therefore, of all the ways that warehouses, both ecommerce third-party logistics (3PL) warehouses and individual brands, can fulfill orders for their customers in an efficient manner, wave picking is regarded as one of the more commonly used strategies around.

What is Wave Picking?

Also known as cluster picking, wave picking is a type of discrete order picking in which orders are grouped together based on similar criteria to be executed and fulfilled at the same time during a specific window. There are many ways in which the products can be grouped together, including:

  • Similar product types (size, heavy/bulky items, cold storage, etc.)
  • Carrier shipping times (some carriers have different schedules and drop off requirements)
  • Product location within the warehouse (also known as zone picking, but can be used as a wave picking criterion)
  • Product requirements (like kitting and assembly)
  • Customer requirements (for 3PL warehouses whose customers have specific fulfillment needs)

One of the most important aspects of wave picking is the timing of intervals in which order picking is processed and shipped. While it is often aligned with the shipping carriers and their shipping deadlines, if there are high priority customer orders (in the case of 3PLs), one can prioritize their waves scheduled first in order to ensure customer satisfaction.

Advantages of Wave Picking

Wave picking is a common method of order picking and advantageously used in warehouses with high-volume and varied products. Its advantages stem from holding off on picking orders until a specific interval, allowing the picker(s) to reduce time spent traveling back and forth throughout the warehouse and pick multiple orders from a single area/product type. This can also reduce downtime for workers by fulfilling the orders in short intervals so that they could be used for other duties within the warehouse if needed. As a result, wave picking often leads to faster, more productive picking. Through integrating multiple variables when planning a wave, pickers can pull higher quantities of the same product or pick several products in the same location. Furthermore, by delaying the timing of picking, an order management system can help organize an optimal route or sequence with which to pick products. When both steps are implemented, warehouses find that pickers’ travel time is slashed dramatically, which makes it possible to pick more in less time.

Disadvantages of Wave Picking

Due to the way in which orders are fulfilled with wave picking, this system isn’t without faults. Foremost issues include delayed orders that may be urgent, and possible traffic congestion.

One main disadvantage of wave picking is that orders are processed in a consecutive manner, one at a time. This means that workers and equipment must wait until one wave is complete before moving onto the next wave. This can negatively impact orders that come at the last minute and are designated as urgent, because they will fall to the back of the queue in processing order.

For larger brand warehouse operations and many 3PL warehouses that have sizable workforces, using wave picking creates the possibility of traffic congestion within a warehouse. While less than if orders were fulfilled as they come in, if everyone is sent to the same or nearby zones simultaneously, there is a chance workers may bottleneck at certain points (especially if machinery is required for picks) and potentially slow one another down. The best way to avoid this problem is to use effective routing for pickers and ensure your warehouse is set up to be accessible by multiple workers in a single instance.

Integrating Wave Picking with a WMS

The most effective way to implement a wave picking system is with a robust warehouse management system (WMS). Scout by Extensiv’s warehouse management system allows warehouses to better plan and measure the data of orders picked and allows the team to optimize their efficiency in picking for customers. By integrating a WMS, a warehouse can plan waves based on criteria like shipment number, delivery and transportation schedules, labor schedules, the location of each product and other variables. To do so even more effectively, a WMS can connect to an order management system, which can compile data from all of a business’ key functions in real time, creating the optimal picking strategy.

Wave Picking Conclusion

Wave picking is just one of many picking strategies used to better help fulfillment operations of warehouses. By delaying the fulfillment of orders into waves, warehouses can better plan the routes of pickers to reduce travel and downtime. They can also use software like an order management system or WMS to more effectively plan each wave and become as efficient as possible. While there is the downside of lower flexibility with this type of strategy, the benefits greatly outweigh the costs as workers will find their productivity skyrocketing by fulfilling significantly more orders in less time. To see an example of a warehouse management system that can assist specifically 3PLs in this area, request a demo of 3PL Warehouse Manager today.

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