What Is Wave Picking in a Warehouse?

wave picking in a warehouse

Efficiency in warehouse management can make or break profit margins. Warehouse pickers spend approximately half their working time walking to and from storage locations. What if we told you that implementing the most efficient picking method can more than halve this distance? Wave picking is one of the most efficient warehouse-picking strategies, but it’s not your only option.

What Is Wave Picking in a Warehouse?

Wave Picking at a Glance

Wave picking is an order management method in which warehouse pickers fulfill multiple orders simultaneously. Workers handle similar orders within the same wave, reducing the number of trips back and forth to the same location. This picking method is also known as cluster picking.

Numerous criteria may determine which orders should be clustered, depending on a warehouse provider’s strategy. The options include:

  • Grouping orders by shipping date. (Warehouses may still decide to fulfill priority orders first.)
  • Grouping orders by type of item — allowing pickers to collect similar items for various orders in one go.
  • Grouping orders according to the warehouse zone in which products are located. This system lets workers pick items for multiple orders simultaneously, even if they are very different.
  • Grouping orders based on packing or assembly requirements.
  • In 3PL warehouse providers, grouping orders based on customer requests (such as packaging type) is another option.

What Are the Benefits of Wave Picking in a Warehouse?

Wave picking is among the most efficient order management systems warehouses can adopt. The benefits of implementing wave picking include:

  • Increased efficiency. Wave picking optimizes pickers’ collection routes and reduces redundancy. This strategy means workers can pick more orders faster, increasing productivity rates.
  • Decreased human error. Efficient picking methods reduce inventory error, as one worker can be responsible for more than one order at a time. Avoiding the need for different workers to handle individual parts of the packing process means accuracy increases.
  • A streamlined picking process reduces bottlenecks that create delays and lead to dissatisfied customers.

Wave picking takes advantage of waves of order fulfillment. Therefore, workers don’t have to idle, and warehouse operations managers can more easily implement shift quotas. As a result, wave picking increases efficiency, leading to better profit margins and improved customer satisfaction.

Pickers who deal with nine orders simultaneously can cut the distance they have to walk by two-thirds, compared to fulfilling one order at a time.

Does Wave Picking Have any Disadvantages?

A rigid wave-picking system can make it harder for warehouses to fulfill last-minute orders that do not neatly fit into planned waves. While the inability to deal with last-minute orders can be a disadvantage, your system can make exceptions for urgent, or high-priority orders.

Large 3PL warehouses may also find that wave picking can create a logistical traffic jam when numerous workers fulfill different waves of orders at the same time. Wave picking isn’t a magic bullet — individual warehouses will have to implement systems to prevent this type of congestion.

Optimized warehouse layout is, for example, key to creating a successful wave-picking system.

All in all, wave picking in a warehouse is one of the best ways to increase efficiency and worker productivity.

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