Order picking in most distribution centers is where the highest concentration of people are located, which creates the highest cost area of the warehouse. The pressure will heat up in most distribution centers this month in preparation of holiday peak orders. There may be some subtle differences that you can make to switch things prior to the season that will save you some dollars over the next few months. The unfortunate reality for many distribution operations is the staff is so lean and mean there’s only time to get the orders out the door. Many managers are working overtime, putting in long hours just to get their “day job” done. If this is the case, it would pay to hire a part time consultant/analysis or to bring someone in to do an operational audit.

Maybe this list will help in determining some opportunity for improvements.

1. Mind Shift Changing the attitude of how you review other opportunities is the best way of creating a more efficient operation. Staying open to new processes, flows, and ideas will give you a better picture of what can be possible.

2. Timing Review the timing of order releases and the commitments. Does it make more sense in your batch release to change the commitment? For example, a simple cutting the “in by time” by one hour changed the batch size and increased throughput and productivity in a facility by 15%.

3. Layout Review your layout and notice if some repositioning would increase walk time and travel time. Would a different type of storage rack be more efficient? Would a more dense pick increase productivity?

4. SKU Storage Do you have all the SKUs, no matter the velocity, stored together? By breaking down the fast, medium, seasonal, and slow SKUs and creating separate pick areas, you may increase productivity by over 25% or more. Review the velocity of your SKUs to determine the impact or gain.

5. OP Style Believe it or not, there are different styles of order picking, and they are more appropriate for specific order profiles, storage mediums, automation, etc. If you are “strict picking” (one person picks the entire order), review what a change to pick and pass would accomplish. Or if you are cart picking, a common mistake is to go from organized storage to a disorganized cart only to a check area, which is back to trying to organize the mess. Accuracy may become an issue also.

6. Analysis By looking at the whole process from beginning to end and then breaking it down to a process flow on paper, it is easier to determine what can be done to improve. Simply doing a 30- minute review by area each week will improve the whole picture over time.

7. Square peg? You have heard the “square peg in the round hole adage”. Think about it from your team’s perspective. Look at your people and make sure you have the best and brightest in the most costly, time-sensitive areas. In a retail distribution center, no one wanted to pick in the direct to consumer area, so they put the slowest and less tenured people in that area. As you may have guessed, they had trouble getting the orders out the door. Make sure your order pickers know how important their task is, and have some sort of accountability in order to track the accuracy of each. Rewarding perfect order percentages per month is very significant in showing other associates how important it is to the customer.

8. Replenishments This is a common area that can be improved. If you find the order fillers having to wait on product, it may pay to stagger the shifts of the people that replenish stock locations. Also, if a normally good picker seems to all of a sudden start making errors, you may want to check the person replenishing that area. If the product is replenished wrong you may have a really good picker picking the wrong product at no fault of their own.

9. Packing If you have a packing or rechecking area, review this flow and touch times. This is an area that usually can be improved. Over time if checks, rechecks, and check again steps have been added reactively, there may be a better way.

10. Shipping Definitely look at this area. Box size, bundling, and using the best rate to certain areas may save hundreds of dollars a month. PARCEL Forum in September is a great place to get ideas that will save you thousands of dollars on shipping cost.