Warehouses rely on picking systems to retrieve items from shelves and move those items to the appropriate packing and shipping areas. Warehouse picking is a function that’s vital to the overall operation, but also one that can contain a great deal of inefficiency. Some warehouses are streamlining the picking process with a picking system called pick to light.
Definition of Pick to Light
Pick to light is a system for picking items from warehouse shelves using lights to direct workers. As opposed to other warehouse picking systems, pick to light allows for fast collection without a list. A typical light-based picking system uses different colored LED lights along with a series of letters and numbers. These tracking components allow for faster accumulation while maintaining inventory accuracy.
The other methods for collecting parts or merchandise from warehouse shelves include paper lists or software programs. For instance, lists of sold items may print out every hour to be pulled for shipping. In the case of software, technology (i.e., tablets, palm pilots) are updated regularly and used to find items that need to be collected. Pick to light is different in that it does not require a list, but is solely dependent on the lighting, letters, and numbers.
How Pick to Light Works
There may be slight variations depending on the pick to light technology, but there are a few common things that make up the ins and outs of this picking system.
Lights are on every storage unit. These units could be reusable totes, shelves, or entire shipping containers. Each unit has at least two different-colored LED lights and a barcode. All of the lights will be the same color (typically red) when there is nothing needed from those units. When something is needed, the red light goes out, and the appropriate light turns on.
If there is more than one type of item in the unit, there may be different colored lights. Or, if more than one of the items is needed, there may be a different light. All of the lighting is tailored to the needs of the organization. Once the employee reaches the right unit, there is usually a barcode to scan which updates the system to know that the appropriate item has been removed.
Is Pick to Light Right for Your Organization?
Here are a number of determining factors that should be considered before implementing pick to light in your warehouse(s).
- Regular Turnover/New Hires: The seasonality of many warehouses means hiring temporary workers and regular turnover. Training new employees takes time and effort, and it costs money. A light-based picking system is easier for practically anyone to teach and learn.
- Number of SKUs: Too few items and pick to light may not be necessary. Extremely large warehouses with multiple thousands of SKUs may need different technology to improve performance.
- Performance of Current System: If your current system isn’t wasting money and is accurate, the change may not be needed. However, if you can benefit from improved labor costs and shrink, pick to light is viable.
- Current Storage Units Suitable: If switching to pick to light would mean completely changing large amounts of equipment, there may be a considerable cost involved. All of which will need to be evaluated before moving forward.
Benefits of Pick to Light
Switching to a pick to light inventory can yield multiple benefits to businesses in terms of cost-savings and productivity. Here’s a look at a few of the key benefits of switching to pick to light.
Having a picking system that is connected directly to the shelves enables faster collection and real-time updates. When an item is needed, it is immediately marked by the light without having to wait until a new list of picks is created. There is also the saved time from printing out a new list and beginning the search through the warehouse.
Most picking systems are separate from the warehouse inventory software, which makes it difficult to track progress and improve over time. Pick to light is directly connected with inventory to ensure accuracy, but also to give valuable insights to further improve the performance of warehouse operations over time.
Decreased Time Loss
Employees having to walk back and forth through the warehouse shelving only to print out a new list and start fresh can lead to idle time, unnecessary walking, and potentially missed items. All these add up to waste and possible health concerns over time. Pick to light allows for workers to be separated into zones. Once items are ready to be picked, employees work through their zones. When completed, they begin again.
Warehouses have peak seasons and times when labor can be sporadic. Hiring and training temporary workers can be costly. Mistakes can also be made when the picking system and inventory software are difficult to learn quickly. Pick to light gives an advantage due to its sheer simplicity, making it easier to train temporary help.
For warehouses struggling to streamline picking processes, pick to light may be a viable solution. In fact, it’s the fastest operator-based picking system in existence, so if improving productivity is your goal, pick to light is a sure bet.