Mistakes during warehouse picking processes are a real hassle for fulfilment managers. They cost distribution centres hundreds of thousands of pounds every year, as well as leading to delays in packing and dispatching orders. That can prove to be even more costly in the long run, as it will damage the reputation of such businesses.
Of course, it is not possible to completely eliminate human error, but it possible to reduce the lost time and money from picking mistakes that plague distribution firms. Read on to learn how you can make your picking processes more accurate.
Create a System of Documentation
A comprehensive system of documentation that covers all of your picking and packing processes is the first step towards cutting back on avoidable errors. This system of documentation should be mostly online and needs to be kept up to date on a regular basis as items come into the warehouse and go out of it. It is what all the staff that work in the warehouse, including the picking staff, will be using as a reference point for carrying out their everyday tasks.
While it will be stored digitally, it is also a good idea to have paper copies. That paperwork should be checked thoroughly two or three times as items are brought in and shipped out for orders.
Add Labels to Your Inventory
A method of labelling all of the items of inventory that you are storing in the warehouse is another way of reducing the potential for errors. There are a number of different options for how to label items: it can be batch numbers, serial numbers or lot numbers. The point is to make it easier for the picking staff to correctly identify and pick the items that are required to fulfil outstanding orders.
The chosen way of labelling your inventory should also be incorporated into your overall system of documentation.
Separate inventory by their SKUs
SKU, or stock keeping unit, refers to the number that is assigned to each item of inventory in a warehouse so that managers can stay aware of stock levels. The SKU number is normally an eight-digit one. You can reduce the likelihood of picking mistakes by making sure that the different SKUs are assigned to distinct locations. That will save pickers having to sort through them.
Implement an efficient stock control system
Every warehouse should have a system for stock control that is designed to make picking items for dispatch as quick and easy as possible. That means sorting inventory out into categories and then keeping all items that fall within the different categories together in particular parts of the building, rather than allowing them to become mixed up. The aim should be to ensure that a picker knows exactly where to go to find the items needed, rather than having to search the storage areas for them.
In most warehouses there will be some items of inventory that are ordered much more frequently than others. If you do not want to sort items into product type categories, you could use categorisation based on how frequently each item is ordered instead.
Keep lines of communication open
By making sure that you are talking to the picking staff at your warehouse on a regular basis, you can get an idea of why mistakes are being made. They will be able to tell you if they are having problems finding items needed for dispatch or if the management system is showing items as being in stock when they are not. Talking to those who are actually doing the job will enable you identify problems quickly and solve them.
Display error and accuracy rates for groups and individuals
The point of doing this is not to attempt to shame those members of the picking staff who are making the highest number of errors. Rather, it is about enabling those that are achieving their targets to help colleagues who need it – perhaps even by mentoring them. It is possible for the best performing members of any team to raise the standards of those around them.
Introduce light picking technology
There are various systems that a warehouse can put into practice to reduce the risk of picking errors, with one being light picking technology. The tech driving this uses a combination of projected light beams, displays that combine numbering and lettering and blinking lights of different colours. These inform pickers of the location of the necessary items, as well as the required quantity and the SKU numbers.
Many warehouses that have applied this technology have found that picking errors have been cut back to 1% or even less.
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