This is part one of a four-part article about warehouse picking technology.

Time is money.

A cliche, yes, but distributors know that reducing picking errors and the time it takes to fill orders will reduce operational costs and increase profitability.

“In a warehouse, we want to only touch items once. If we pick the right item the first time, then we don’t have put it back, we don’t have to repack … we don’t have to issue credit memos,” says Jeff Gusdorf, a consultant at Brown Smith Wallace, a St. Louis-based public accounting firm. “The cost of making an error is really high. We want to do things only once.”

Switching from a manual picking system to a bar-coded warehouse will put distributors on a path to making their operations more cost-effective, because it will give them access to real-time inventory data.

When a picker removes an item from a shelf in a warehouse that is using technology such as a scanner gun that can relay information instantaneously back into the jan/san distributors’ management systems, it allows the entire enterprise to know what exactly is on its shelves at any given time. This real-time information leads to better inventory controls, cash flow and customer service.

“The biggest return on investment is moving from a manual pick system to scanner warehouse management package,” says Jason Bader, the owner of The Distribution Team, a consulting firm based in Portland, Oregon. “The leaps and bounds you are going to gain from that, not only in the picking process, but your receiving process becomes more accurate and your cycle counting becomes easier. All of these things will make your return on investment great.”
But even distributors already using technology to pick may find room for improvement. Scanner guns are common tools, but depending on their warehouse size and layout, and the products being picked, distributors could benefit from switching to voice- or light-based systems.