Consultants in Logistics

Unpicking Order Consolidation

Unpicking Order Consolidation

Consolidating multiple orders in a warehouse that is wholly, partly automated or even entirely manual needs a lot of thought, analysis and planning. The size, shape and sales volume of the items in question all have a part to play but so does the WMS. 

The list of possible zones and therefore sources of goods for consolidation is endless in a modern fast moving warehouse.

Items that are large or unwieldy may be stored in different storage media, warehouse zones or even different buildings altogether. Smaller fast moving items could be held in shelving, on multiple levels in a mezzanine and medium moving pallets and cases might be in the traditional pick faces on the ground floor of the racking. 

WMS Order Consolidation Functionality

A good WMS with the appropriate functionality will help with this immeasurably. The WMS (Warehouse Management System) functionality required for effective consolidation includes:

  • ZONE PICKING – the picking of products in specified zones of the warehouse, by order or in bulk.  Zones can be grouped or treated separately dependent upon the planned activity.
  • WAVE PICKING – the release of a ‘wave’ of orders, possibly based upon the earliest required departure times or other criteria but designed to be of a size that ensure productivity rates are maintained and not hindered through too little or too much volume.
  • CROSS DOCKING – of product lines that may be in short supply or stored off site and need to be merged alongside other items to complete the order.  This is often the most difficult part of any consolidation.
  • LOCATION & CONTAINER MANAGEMENT – through the use of scanable license plates on packs, bags, pallets, items and the use of dynamic physical locations to support effective sortation and consolidation.

But even with the support of the WMS a lot of planning is required and a lot of questions need to be asked and answered. How many orders in a wave? Do we order pick or bulk pick? What is the capacity of the sortation system? Should sortation be automated or manual?  Is the likely bottleneck due to manpower constraints, congestion in the allocated space, or simply too much stuff needing to be sorted.

And it’s not a one size fits all. Automated sortation systems are very good at sorting smaller, similar items in to customer orders.  They are particularly effective with packs and cases of reasonable uniformity.  In today’s world of Internet retailing and fulfillment there are many examples of wave picking, zone picking and automated sortation systems being combined to create a very effective operation but they are not particularly flexible when out-sized, heavy, unusual shaped items are part of the mix. 

So what can you do manually?

Smaller waves can make it easier to sort and pick but may slow down the entire operation, bigger waves could cause chaos in the sortation area and again slow down the operation.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking a pick wave is the same as the carrier, trunk movement or geographic destination.

Define the wave to ensure the workload is manageable and the overall flow of goods through the warehouse is not compromised. Remember to pick from all the required zones to ensure all orders in the wave can be completed and despatched.  Any item or order that isn’t cleared in the wave will create congestion, confusion and ultimately errors.

Where available use ‘license plate’ functionality in the WMS to monitor and track package (carton, pallet, location) contents. 

Tracking the packs and locations will ensure the sortation process is clear and effective.  Remember that the time spent looking [or searching] for an item is wasted time and will have a big impact on the efficiency of the operation.

Another common mistake is to attempt to consolidate everything in the warehouse. Larger items might be more effectively delivered separately even via a different delivery method to the same end user. 

Why not let the carrier consolidate some items for you?  

It is worth bearing in mind that many carriers have good sortation systems throughout their networks.  Simply by sending two parcels on the same day, to the same destination, with the same service requirement will probably mean delivered by the same final mile delivery driver. This is a consolidated order to all intents and purposes as far as the end customer is concerned – just make sure that your commercial deal covers this.

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