Warehouses can sometimes feel like a gigantic maze and treasure hunt all rolled into one. As workers dart back and forth picking orders, trying to locate those items can be one of the most stressful parts of the task. The constant back and forth all across the warehouse is simply inefficient and if not done quickly can drastically decrease overall picking and delivery speeds.
There is where "wave picking" comes in really useful.
Wave picking is an order picking method that is designed to facilitate easier, more efficient and faster order picking. Essentially, it is a variation of zone or batch picking, which permits fulfillment staff to collect multiple orders all in specific inventory zones. Wave picking follows this same base concept with one minor difference; it is completed only during specific times throughout the day.
While wave picking is a great method for filling gaps of downtime, it can also be used as an effective strategy for improving the daily efficiency of warehouse operations and staying ahead of potentially busy periods.
Let's take a look at what exactly wave picking is and how you can get started with it!
What is Wave Picking?
The basic premise behind wave picking is to optimize the process of picking orders that are scheduled for fulfillment. It involves allocating a specific inventory or storage zone, and an employee to pick items from those sections. This is done during specific times throughout the day. With a wave picking process, orders are organized, grouped, and picked in a batch – usually ranging from 3 to 12 orders for each ‘wave’.
The process itself is relatively simple...
A worker will receive an organized picking list of orders that need to be picked and sent over to packing. Instead of walking back and forth for each individual item, the goods are grouped together by specific criteria. This criterion might be the zone it is located in, the shipping priority or even the carrier that will carry the goods.
Then, the picker uses a cart or tote to go collect the group of goods in one single trip. Once done, they simply send each group off to be packaged and shipped. This keeps the orders organized and processed much faster than treating them as "one-offs".
Not to mention, it greatly reduces the stress involved in running all across the warehouse all day long.
Waving picking can be used in both high and low volume operations.
Specifically, for low volume centers, wave picking is great for reducing trips back and forth for each employee. With larger fulfillment centers, it helps to offset downtime, by reducing the number of people needed to work during slower periods. However, there are some instances where wave picking is not recommended, specifically when a fulfillment center picks, packs, and ships as soon as orders are received.
How to Optimize a Wave Picking Strategy
If you’re thinking about creating a wave picking strategy, there are a few best practices that successful managers use.
The first thing you’ll need is a robust and efficient warehouse management system or WMS software platform. The WMS can help evaluate the different variables that impact the wave including the number of orders, labor schedules of pickers, delivery times, pick-up schedules of carriers, and the location of each product.
The Delivery Commitment
One of the first items that impacts wave picking is the delivery commitment purchased by the customer.
If there are groups of orders being sent via the same delivery service (such as next day air, or ground service) the WMS will organize those picking orders into waves so they can all be fulfilled at similar times, and meet pick-up requirements.
If customers from geographic areas near one another and are ordering similar products, a wave can be set up based on geolocation. This likewise helps to optimize order fulfillment, shipping, and pick-up by the carrier.
Determine What Picking Method is Best
There are multiple picking strategies that a fulfillment center can embrace.
However, wave picking is not one size fits all. It might be best to consider batch picking, instead. The wave process is best utilized by those with shipping flexibility or fulfillment centers that operate during longer business hours.
Our team of experts can help optimize your picking, packaging and shipping operations to reduce expenses and improve operational efficiency. Likewise, we can help you pick the best Warehouse Management Systems for your volume, product line, and customer base.