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February 6, 2024
February 6, 2024

Zone Picking from A-Z: Strategies & Benefits

Dive deep into the world of zone picking, understanding its methods, benefits, and future in modern warehousing.

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Amid the complexities of modern warehousing, understanding the intricacies of order fulfillment is paramount. Enter zone picking, an innovative method revolutionizing the heart of warehouse operations. Dive deep into the world of zone picking and discover its synergy with warehouse automation powerhouse, AutoStore.

What is zone picking?  

Navigating the vast expanse of a warehouse can seem daunting. But imagine a method that meticulously divides this landscape into smaller, more manageable areas, optimizing every step of the order fulfillment process. This is precisely what zone picking achieves. Zone picking is a methodical warehousing technique where the entire space is divided into distinct zones or regions, and the picking process typically unfolds sequentially, zone by zone. Each of these zones is assigned dedicated pickers responsible solely for the items within their designated territory. Instead of a picker roaming the entire warehouse floor for different items of an order, they stay within their zone, picking only those products that belong there.

A notable characteristic of zone picking is its sequential nature—taking place zone by zone instead of in parallel. An order bin, or any order loading unit such as a pallet, box, parcel, or bin, travels around, systematically passing each zone. Sometimes, picking lines are placed onto a loading aid, and then they are forwarded to the next area to obtain additional picking lines from that specific zone.

You can think of zone picking as a city plan. Just as cities have neighborhoods, each with its unique character and offerings, a warehouse has zones, each containing specific items. And just as residents know their neighborhoods intimately, pickers know their zones inside out, ensuring the most efficient and accurate order fulfillment process.

Zone picking is a methodical warehousing technique where the entire space is divided into distinct zones or regions.

The benefits of zone picking: Efficient order accuracy

In the vast expanse of the warehouse floor, where countless methodologies drive operations, zone picking emerges as an effective strategy, bringing with it a range of advantages:

Operational Efficiency: At the heart of the zonal approach lies the key principle of positioning pickers in distinct areas. This minimizes unnecessary travel and prevents pickers from overlapping in the same regions. Such streamlining ensures quick order processing, though it’s important to efficiently manage the time it takes for workers (pickers) to move between different inventory Bins or locations within the warehouse where items need to be picked, (also known as Bin traversal times). When executed with precision, the overall efficiency rises.

Mastery through Specialization: A picker constantly operating within a specific zone cultivates deep familiarity with the items therein. This familiarity evolves into expertise, enhancing the accuracy of picks and reducing potential errors.

Integration with Advanced Automation: Zone picking harmoniously integrates with automation systems, notably systems like AutoStore. As automated systems handle the initial order processing, they collaborate with human or robot pickers in different zones. Technologies such as pick to light, voice picking, or RF picking further streamline this integration, melding the strengths of both automation and manual processes.

Optimized Handling of Varied Products: The zonal method is adept at managing a diverse range of products, from fast-moving items to unconventional "uglies." Their strategic placement within zones ensures they're always accessible.

Streamlined Flow and Reduced Congestion: A well-defined zonal setup naturally leads to a logical flow of operations. By creating clear boundaries for pickers, congestion, especially during peak operational times, is significantly minimized.

In summary, zone picking transcends mere warehouse organization. It's a dynamic blend of human expertise and technological prowess, all aimed at refining the order fulfillment journey.

At the heart of the zonal approach lies the key principle of positioning pickers in distinct areas.

Defining Three Strategies: 'Static,' 'Dynamic,' and 'Rotational'  

Warehouses, as dynamic centers of activity, require thorough organization for optimal functionality. One of the pivotal challenges in the zone picking process is executing orders with minimal needs to consolidate. If consolidation becomes necessary, the consolidation area expands, and the workload increases in merging order splits per area into the overall order. This challenge is particularly relevant when zones operate independently from one another. The strategies adopted in response to this challenge play a vital role in affecting both picker efficiency and order fulfillment times. Let's take a closer look at three primary zoning strategies:

Static zone picking

This is the most straightforward approach. In a static setup, products remain in fixed locations, and pickers are assigned to specific zones. They become experts in their designated areas, knowing the ins and outs of every product at their disposal.

Benefits: It leads to high accuracy rates, given the picker's intimate knowledge of their zone. Also, training times are reduced as pickers only need to familiarize themselves with a particular segment of the warehouse.

Challenges: The downside is that it might not be as adaptable to changes in demand. Over time, certain zones might become hotspots of activity while others see reduced action, leading to imbalances in workload.

Dynamic Zone Picking

Unlike static picking, dynamic zone picking is fluid. Zones change based on the order profile or demand fluctuations. The warehouse management system (WMS) typically determines which picker is best suited for each order, based on current workload and location.

Benefits: This method offers flexibility, catering to varying demands and ensuring a more evenly distributed workload. It can adapt quickly to shifts in order patterns or product popularity.

Challenges: It requires a robust WMS to manage and may involve frequent retraining of pickers as they adapt to new zones.

Rotational Zone Picking

A hybrid of the previous two, rotational zone picking involves regularly changing the zones to which pickers are assigned. While products remain in their locations, pickers rotate through different zones over specific intervals, often daily or weekly.

Benefits: It strikes a balance between specialization and adaptability. Pickers gain a broader understanding of the warehouse inventory, while still benefiting from periodic specialization.

Challenges: The challenge lies in managing the transition phases and ensuring that pickers quickly adapt to their new zones to maintain efficiency.

In choosing between these strategies, warehouses must weigh their specific needs against the strengths and weaknesses of each approach. Whether it's the stability of static picking, the adaptability of dynamic picking, or the balanced approach of rotational picking, it’s all centered around achieving streamlined operations and timely order fulfillment.

One of the pivotal steps in the zone picking process is determining the exact nature of these zones.

Determining warehouse zones: Key considerations

Setting up zones in a warehouse is a strategic endeavor, anchored by several essential factors that aim to streamline operations and optimize order fulfillment. Here are the pivotal determinants guiding zonal establishment:

Assortment attributes

Dimensions and size: Items are categorized based on their size, weight, and shape. Bulky or uniquely-sized products might require specialized zones, while frequently picked, smaller items might be placed near packing zones for efficiency.

Product turnover: High-demand items are positioned in easily accessible zones, reducing pick times. In contrast, slower-moving items might be positioned further away.

Operational insights

Order profiles: If certain products are often ordered together, they're positioned nearby, streamlining the picking process.

Seasonal shifts: Zones can adapt to cater to fluctuating seasonal demands, such as holiday-centric products.

Worker productivity

Reduced picker travel: Zones aim to minimize picker movement. Strategic product placement, especially for high-demand items, ensures quick order fulfillment.

ABC Analysis: Items are classified by their pick frequency: 'A' items being the most popular and 'C' the least. This hierarchy guides product positioning within zones.

Technological symbiosis

Picking Tech Compatibility: The technology in use, be it RF-Picking or Pick by Light, can shape zone designs, ensuring optimal tech utilization.

WMS Capabilities: The warehouse management system's sophistication can influence dynamic or static zonal structures.

In sum, crafting zones is a blend of product understanding and operational dynamics. The goal is clear: efficient operations and prompt order completion.

Adapting zone picking to seasonal fluxes and inventory variations

Zone picking, while rooted in structured methodology, is by no means rigid. In fact, one of its strengths lies in its adaptability to cope with changing inventory levels or seasonal demands.

Fluctuating inventory

Inventory in warehouses is in a state of constant flux. Popular products may sell out rapidly, new items might be introduced, or stock levels of particular products might rise or dip depending on various factors. Zone picking can be tuned to these shifts:

Dynamic Zoning: Adjust zones based on the ebb and flow of inventory. High-demand products can be temporarily moved to larger, more accessible zones to expedite picking during peak periods. Similarly, products in lower demand can be relegated to smaller zones or combined with others.

Shelving Flexibility: Adjusting the storage units within zones allows warehouses to accommodate different inventory sizes and quantities. Modular shelving systems can be particularly useful in this context.

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Seasonal changes

The e-commerce boom has brought with it intense seasonal demands. From holiday shopping sprees to back-to-school rushes, warehouses need to be prepared to handle these surges.

  • Pop-Up zones: During high-demand seasons, temporary "pop-up" zones can be established to focus on specific high-turnover items, ensuring quicker access and reduced picker travel times.
  • Rotational assignments: Seasonal items can be strategically positioned in specific zones, and pickers can be rotated to these areas to develop a short-term familiarity, ensuring efficient picking during the rush.
  • Integration with WMS: A robust Warehouse Management System can forecast demands based on historical data, allowing for pre-emptive zone reconfigurations.
  • Safety stock zones: Establish specific zones that house safety stock – extra inventory reserved for unexpected demands or supply chain disruptions.

In essence, while zone picking introduces structure to warehouse operations, it's designed with adaptability in mind. This flexibility ensures that warehouses can remain responsive to the ever-changing landscape of consumer demand, ensuring timely order fulfillment irrespective of seasonal or inventory changes.

Seasonal items can be strategically positioned in specific zones, and pickers can be rotated to these areas to develop a short-term familiarity, ensuring efficient picking during the rush.

Zone picking in an automated environment: The AutoStore system

When discussing advancements in warehouse management, the concept of zone picking has evolved with the advent of automated technologies like AutoStore. Unlike traditional manual zone picking, the AutoStore system revolutionizes the approach by blending the efficiency of zone picking with robotic precision.

A modern take on zone picking

AutoStore has significantly modernized the concept of zone picking by using an automated system where Robots, rather than humans, move to retrieve items. This shift in methodology means that zones are no longer fixed areas where pickers gather items, but rather dynamic sectors within the AutoStore Grid system managed by a fleet of Robots. These Robots bring the inventory Bins to a central picking station, eliminating the need for pickers to move around and thus increasing efficiency.

The system is powered by sophisticated software that ensures Robots are dispatched to the correct locations within the Grid, enhancing retrieval times and adapting to fluctuating order patterns. This results in a flexible zoning strategy that maintains the speed and accuracy of traditional zone picking while improving upon it with automation.

Picking stations in an AutoStore system serve as new zone interfaces, where workers can pick items from a variety of zones as Bins are delivered to them. This arrangement facilitates the management of complex orders that require items from multiple zones. In this case, multiple bins can also arrive at a zone, so the zone operator can engage in multi-order picking within that area.

In essence, AutoStore refines the process of zone picking by marrying the principles of zone efficiency with automated technology. The result is a streamlined, scalable solution that mitigates the physical strain on workers and leverages the high speed of robotics for a smarter warehouse management approach.

The AutoStore system revolutionizes the approach by blending the efficiency of zone picking with robotic precision.

Zone out: Gazing into upcoming modifications and innovations

As the world of warehousing evolves, zone picking might see noteworthy shifts. Here's a speculative glimpse into the future of zone picking:

Dynamic zone reconfiguration:

Advanced analytics could allow zones to be reconfigured in real-time based on demand patterns. Companies might achieve quicker order turnarounds and better space utilization, addressing the fluctuating demands efficiently.

Augmented reality-assisted picking:

AR could come into play, directing pickers to items within their zones via visual cues. Precision in picking could rise, potentially reducing errors and shortening picker training durations.

IoT-Driven zone coordination:

IoT devices might help synchronize picker movements, preventing overlap and ensuring optimal traffic flow. Such coordination could further minimize congestion, possibly elevating productivity levels.

Integration with co-bots in zones:

Collaborative robots, or co-bots, might become regular companions for pickers within specific zones. If integrated, co-bots could tackle repetitive or heavy tasks, potentially speeding up the picking process and enhancing worker well-being.

Adaptive zone structures:

Pop-up zones could emerge, especially during peak seasons or sales, adapting to changing inventory needs. This flexibility might empower businesses to handle demand surges seamlessly, without overhauling their entire zone setup.

Anticipated modifications in zone picking underscore the importance of adaptability. Companies considering or already using zone picking should stay abreast of these possible changes to harness their full potential.

AutoStore refines the process of zone picking by marrying the principles of zone efficiency with automated technology.

まとめ

Zone picking, a method once considered rudimentary, has matured into a strategic powerhouse, especially when paired with the effective storage and retrieval systems like AutoStore. As businesses strive for precision, speed, and efficiency, embracing the zonal approach, complemented by cutting-edge automation, paves the way for unparalleled operational success. Welcome to the future of warehousing.

よくある質問

What is an example of zone picking?

In an example of zone picking, consider a warehouse with three zones – electronics, apparel, and groceries. Typically, zone picking occurs sequentially, with a picker in each zone handling items exclusively from that zone. The picking lines are consolidated on a loading aid, which travels around the zones. This sequential method, often using conveyors or AMRs, is the usual approach, distinct from parallel zone picking where multiple zones are picked simultaneously.

What is the difference between zone picking and batch picking?

Zone picking divides the warehouse into specific zones with pickers assigned to each zone. They pick only items within their assigned area. Batch picking, on the other hand, involves a picker gathering multiple orders at once, picking all items for those orders in a single pass. Batch picking can also take place in each zone, according to the created waves due to order splits.

What is zone picking in warehouses?

倉庫におけるゾーン・ピッキングとは、倉庫や物流センターを明確なエリアやゾーンに分割するプロセスを指します。ピッカーは特定のゾーンに割り当てられ、指定されたエリアからのみ商品をピッキングする責任を負い、注文処理プロセスを合理化します。

What is an advantage of zone picking?

An advantage of zone picking is increased operational efficiency. By limiting a picker's area of operation, it minimizes unnecessary travel across the warehouse, leading to quicker order processing and reduced chances of pickers overlapping in the same regions.

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