Warehouse employees in a pick-to-light environment select items from bins based on a light system. A warehouse system that relies on light to direct and inform the picker is somewhat unusual in small to mid-size distributors because of the large infrastructure investment needed.

“The picker does not have to process too much information because the picker will not have instructions that they have to read or listen to,” says Jeff Gusdorf, a consultant at Brown Smith Wallace, a St. Louis-based public accounting firm.

Pick-to-light can be effective if it is implemented in one zone of a warehouse where the fastest moving items are stored. For example, in a pick-to-light environment, the picker would receive a pick ticket that consists of items from only one zone. When the picker is in the zone, he or she would be instructed through light which items to select without having to refer back to the pick ticket and then place them into a tote or onto a conveyor belt.

“If I have a type of business where I can organize my warehouse appropriately and I can have somebody who’s picking items out of a zone then it might make economic sense for me to use pick-to-light,” says Gusdorf.

A pick-to-light system requires less training than alternatives such as voice and scanner gun systems because the picker only needs to follow the light signals rather than understand a range of picking instructions.

The effectiveness of pick-to-light systems may be outweighed by the complex technology and capital investment that it requires to be able to direct pickers through light based on information from the warehouse management system.

“Pick-to-light is going to be the most expensive and most accurate but is going to be limited to a specific area where you can really get the benefit from your investment,” compared to a system based on scanner gun, says Gusdorf. “Like everything, there are tradeoffs.”

Brendan O’Brien is a freelance writer based in Greenfield, Wisconsin.