Optimizing Pick Waves in Your Warehouse

If you ship a wide variety of products, either directly to consumers or in less than pallet quantities to business customers, then the challenge of delivering your goods in the most timely and efficient fashion can be particularly perplexing.  Once you have the order, the first and most critical step is releasing orders to the warehouse. 

Your greatest delay and cost likely occurs in the picking process, driven by travel time, both horizontally and vertically. Releasing orders to the warehouse in a FIFO fashion will probably leave you with troublesome inefficiencies, even if you have wireless, automatically directed picking with task interleaving.  However, releasing orders in a wave that maximizes picking efficiency can create other bottlenecks in packing and shipping.  Other schemes for creating pick waves include batching orders and releasing them by pick zone, by destination zip code, by carrier pickup time, or by some combination of these or other attributes of either the items or the customers.  Of course, batching orders means one must decide how large the batch should be.  Wave planning decisions should not be taken lightly.  Nor should they be approached intuitively because the implications for both service and cost are quite real. 

Fortunately, rigorous, quantitative analysis can be achieved through discrete event simulation.  As a manager of process improvement for a high volume, direct-to-consumer, multi-billion dollar enterprise, I had the opportunity to simulate various wave planning strategies and evaluate the impact on service, cost and workflow.  I have only heard of one other instance of this analysis, but I hope that I am simply ignorant of a growing use of simulation to periodically analyze and select the best wave planning approach. 

If you run a large, multi-zone fulfillment center that ships relatively small orders and you aren’t simulating to find the pick waves that will help you meet your objectives, you are missing a great opportunity.  That’s the bad news.  But the good news is that the service and cost savings are there for the taking if are willing to do the analysis (or get someone to do it for you).

Thanks for stopping by Supply Chain Action, once again.  I trust that you will remember that since we aren’t promised tomorrow, we must live today well.

Have a wonderful weekend!

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About Arnold Mark Wells
Industry, software, and consulting background. I help companies do the things about which I write. If you think it might make sense to explore one of these topics for your organization, I would be delighted to hear from you. I am employed by Opalytics.

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