Picking methods
Overview of the main processes

Goods handling in the warehouse is one of the central elements of the supply chain: Order picking may be the most resource-intensive regarding time and personnel efforts. The right choice depends on your business, your operations structure and your processes to maximize efficiency.

We have gathered insights on the different picking methods for you, helping you find the right one for your warehouse. You will find insights on advantages and disadvantages as well as some tips on how to chose the right picking method.

Lady picking with smart glasses

© Picavi at Ecomal

What is order picking?

Picking is a process for the provision of goods. A common example from eCommerce is the compiling of different goods ordered for delivery to the Customer.

The most common method is manual picking: this involves warehouse staff picking the correct quantities of items in the order from the various storage locations and putting them together for dispatch.

The main goals of order picking are short picking time and high picking quality to keep costs low in the supply chain.

Some logistics companies rely on automated systems such as picking robots or picking machines for the provision of goods, but these require high investment volumes and structural changes to the warehouse.

There are two main categories of order picking:

Different picking methods in detail

Pick-by-paper – picking with a paper list

Believe it or not, pick-by-paper is still one of the most widespread picking methods, even in the digital age. The picker is given a detailed list containing information about the goods’ storage location and the required quantity, and takes this list with them through the warehouse. Pick-by-paper is a simple and low-cost method.

Advantages of pick-by-paper:

Disadvantages of pick-by-paper:

Pick-by-paper is a classic process for order-based picking, but it cannot keep up with today’s demands. It is extremely susceptible to errors, especially with high pick densities. The technology breaks in the process also make it virtually impossible to track errors. Given the vital importance of efficiency in warehouses, it is no longer fit for purpose.

Pick-by-scan – picking with a mobile scanner

In pick-by-scan, the information on the picking list is presented to the picker digitally on a mobile handheld scanner. This device is connected to the higher-level order picking system.

Advantages of pick-by-scan:

Disadvantages of pick-by-scan:

Pick-by-scan is a mature system that is used as standard in many applications like retail. Despite this, it offers very little room for development. The picker still has to put down the scanner to actually remove goods from storage.

Pick-by-light – picking with light signals

Pick-by-light is best suited for use in warehouses with high throughput and large item quantities. This system guides the picker through the warehouse using light signals that are attached to the shelves in displays and buttons. Once they reach the storage space, the picker confirms their action, i.e. removing goods or filling the storage space in a so-called put-to-light process.

Advantages of pick-by-light:

Disadvantages of pick-by-light:

A combination of pick-by-light and put-to-light can be a good choice for warehouses with high throughput. The high initial investment costs and lower flexibility can outweigh this, however. As a result, this method is less popular among smaller warehouses and those that specialize in certain goods.

Pick-by-voice – voice-guided picking

Pick-by-voice is a popular picking method in logistics. The picker receives the order information directly to their ear. Using a headset and microphone, the picker is guided through the warehouse to the items by a computer-generated voice and communicates directly with the higher-level system.

Vorteile von Pick-by-Voice:

Disadvantages of pick-by-voice:

Pick-by-voice was the first system that allowed the picker to keep both hands free. This led to improved ergonomics and allowed the picker to concentrate on their main job. But the need for the picker to listen constantly, combined with the fact that it is possible to skip item and storage location verification, makes the system susceptible to errors and increasingly imprecise.

Pick-by-vision – picking with smart glasses

Pick-by-vision is based on the fact that 80% of the information presented to us every day is taken in and processed visually. Picking with smart glasses allows pickers to be guided visually through the warehouse and the entire picking process. The system combines the benefits of pick-by-voice and pick-by-light, and is both highly flexible and adjustable. A barcode scanner integrated in the smart glasses makes picking easier and less tiring. All of the relevant information is displayed in real time on the glasses. This increases reliability and allows the picker to check storage locations, items or item numbers at any time. The compulsory scanning verifies that the correct item has been picked. The picker has their hands free at all times and receives a confirmation once they have successfully processed the order.

Advantages of pick-by-vision:

Disadvantages of pick-by-vision:

Side note: pick-by-robot:

As the name suggests, pick-by-robot uses logistics robots to pick goods and items. Instead of a human picker, an autonomous vehicle moves through the warehouse and automatically picks the goods.

Advantages of pick-by-robot:

Disadvantages of pick-by-robot:

At present, pick-by-robot is an extremely expensive option. In addition, many models lack the flexibility to pick different-sized goods. A good alternative are so-called cobots, which automatically guide the picker through the warehouse and also act as a goods basket.

Picking methods compared

Choosing the right picking method is crucial for the efficiency of your warehouse. Find the Pros and Cons of the different methods below:

Pick-by-Vision Pick-by-Voice Pick-by-Light MDE-Terminal Pick list
Flexible to use & expand
Location determination
Hands free
Intuitive visual guidance
Real-time verification
Minimal fatigue
Error rate virtually zero
Integrated barcode scanner
Intuitive handling
Simple integration
Permanent inventory

How to find the right picking method

Each of these methods has advantages and disadvantages that you need to consider for your use case.

The higher the turnover, the more interesting new picking methods might be. Their implementation can reduce costs in the long term: higher picking speeds and a significantly reduced error rate make processes more efficient, and high ergonomics increase employee satisfaction. Especially with bulky or heavy items, the hands-free works best.

Modern systems integrate these advantages and enable flexible use. Systems such as Pick-by-Vision can be flexibly expanded and can be used in different areas of application, e.g. for inventory or incoming goods inspection.

What to consider when choosing a picking method

  • Investment costs

    You should always find out about the expected investment costs and weigh these up against the expected ROI.

  • Throughput

    Make sure to consider the order capacity to be processed when making your decision. How many orders do you process per day and per time unit in your warehouse?

  • Warehouse size

    Consider the amount of space used in your warehouse. Take into account criteria such as the width of the aisles, the height of the shelves and the available levels.

  • IT compatibility

    Check whether the new order picking technology is compatible with your existing warehouse IT infrastructure.

  • Staff

    Get your staff involved in the process. What are the needs of your pickers? Decide which system addresses these needs best and customize it to your team.

FAQ on different picking methods
The simplest form of person-to-goods order picking is pick-by-paper, which uses paper lists to pick goods. Pick-by-scan digitizes this method of order picking. The items to be removed, along with the required quantity, are displayed on a mobile device like a PDC. Another order picking method is pick-by-light. This system guides the picker through the warehouse to the relevant items using lighting elements. A more flexible option is pick-by-voice, in which the picker is guided through the warehouse by a computer-generated voice. Pick-by-vision combines the benefits of pick-by-voice and pick-by-light. The picker wears a pair of smart glasses that guide them through the warehouse. This keeps their hands free at all times, allowing them to concentrate on their main job of picking goods. Pick-by-vision is therefore a highly ergonomic and modern technology.
Pick-by-paper is the cheapest method of manual order picking, but it is inefficient and highly susceptible to errors. Pick-by-scan digitizes the picking list. Despite this, the picker still has to hold the scanner, meaning their hands are not free for picking goods. Newer systems such as pick-by-light or pick-by-voice are much more efficient. Pick-by-light reliably guides the picker through the warehouse. This solution comes with high initial investment costs, however, and is not very flexible or easy to scale. Pick-by-voice allows the picker to keep their hands free for their main activity. This technology requires the picker to listen constantly, however, which can lead to fatigue and therefore picking errors. Pick-by-vision combines all the advantages of the modern processes. One major advantage is the excellent ergonomics. It also leads to increased picking speed and lower error rates. The technology requires little training and allows warehouse staff to work comfortably and efficiently for long periods.
Introducing a new picking method is a major decision that requires the support of many different stakeholders in the business. The most important groups are staff, logistics managers and the IT department. Beyond this, the management board and company health and safety managers need to be involved in the project, along with customer IT departments and external IT service providers.

Order picking is one of the most time and work-intensive tasks in the warehouse. As the last link in the internal logistics chain, it has a direct impact on customer satisfaction and therefore the company’s reputation. Any errors in order picking are felt by the customer immediately. Many companies are exploring automated options for this process. But the overwhelming majority, around 80%, still rely on more flexible manual solutions. As product portfolios continue to grow and become ever more diverse, and delivery times become ever shorter, this flexibility can be a crucial advantage.

The best user interface belongs to pick-by-vision. It relieves the mental load on the picker by reducing the amount of information displayed to a minimum. Pick-by-vision guides the worker precisely through the process and makes their job easier. This significantly reduces the mental and cognitive load on the picker. The user interface can be easily adapted to the individual needs of the worker at any time.

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