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Putting an end to paperwork - order picking like the big ones!

Do you know this? The paper on the workstations in the warehouse is piling up. The phone is ringing all the time and colleagues want a priority order delivered quickly. If so, we can reassure you for a moment - you are not alone.

Especially in manufacturing companies in the SME sector, day-to-day business in the warehouse is characterised by a lot of paper and often only exists because of the many years of experience of the employees. It is not uncommon for classic picking and packing processes not to be practised at all. The employees from order processing bring the delivery notes to the warehouse and then they search and pack. And if the company works with batches or serial numbers, then the data of the removed goods are entered manually on the delivery notes.

Most companies now know that this can be done differently, but as the saying goes: "All beginnings are difficult" and at some point it works. But if one of your "knowledge carriers" drops out and colleagues from other areas have to step in. Then one or the other customer may have to wait a little longer for his goods.

The big players in online retailing show us how it's done and most of us are only too happy to take advantage of the related convenience. Ordering today and receiving tomorrow is crazy and great at the same time! And if that really works out, then I'll order there again next time and not somewhere else. Companies like Amazon don't see themselves as logistics companies just because of the wages. Keeping logistics under control is so important.

Let's take a look at the basic ways of picking:

Single-stage - here the goods for each order are taken individually from the warehouse and packed ready for dispatch. This variant is not particularly efficient because there are many walking routes and in stressful times it quickly jams up in the dispatch area because there is no regulated sequence. Of course, there are also industries or very large, bulky products that only allow this procedure. In single-stage picking, mobile handheld devices suit very well (see illustration on the right). If you map the process digitally throughout, in our case picking lists are created in SAP Business One. The employee in the warehouse sees these lists on his handheld and works through them according to date/priority. He also sees notes from his colleagues in order processing. Once the order has been picked, the delivery note can be printed on the device. If batch- or serial number-managed articles are included, the data is printed on the delivery note. All information is now also available in SAP Business One. The order processing department is therefore fully informed - even without going to the warehouse. Attention: When reaching continuity, please offer alternative opportunities to move - such as a walk during the lunch break – as a compensation.

Two-stage - here the goods of several customer orders are combined and fetched from the warehouse in a route-optimised manner. The handheld devices listed above are used for this purpose. The collected goods are brought to the specially designated packing area on pallets or packing trolleys. There, other employees pick the individual customer orders. In addition to significantly shorter walking distances, one advantage of this variant is that, due to the stationary packing workstations, the employees can work with software that also allows operation on large monitors (ideally with touch). This allows you to visually record the products to be packed per order much faster, which further reduces the processing time. In conjunction with simple USB or Bluetooth scanners, the items are scanned a second time during the packing process. This manages how many items are in the box (or pallet, pallet cage, etc.). On the other hand, this step also serves to check for accuracy and completeness. You don't want the contents and the delivery note to differ!

Process of a two-stage picking with forwarding connection

Another advantage of digital packing workstations is the possibility to connect forwarding agencies. The well-known names in this field today offer portal solutions that can be connected via web services (exchange of XML files). So if one relies on a digital solution in the packing area, all parcel information can be transmitted immediatelyto the forwarding company in addition to the customer data. The resulting parcel labels can be printed and the packing process completed with the final printing of the delivery note. Due to the connection, your delivery note can now also contain the tracking ID in addition to batch and serial numbers. There are role models among our customers who send 600 parcels and more every day via this process.

The readiness? Decision-makers in these areas often assume that their employees are afraid of a changeover, or that they might not be able to manage it successfully. This may be true in some cases, but in times of digitalisation, not only is the readiness significantly higher - many employees often even wish for more support through easy-to-use programmes. Just ask the "WhatsApp question". You will be amazed at how widely Whatsapp is used today across all generations. Based on the usage rate, you can definitely get an idea of your team's readiness for digitalisation. P.S. I have heard of companies in which employees send information / data to each other independently via WhatsApp because the company does not yet offer comparable possibilities for quick communication. {Please do not copy this without prior consultation with the management}

Our recommendation: Put your processes to the test. Take the time and take a closer look. Talk to your team. You will hear sentences like "we don't need anything else" or "we have always done it this way" but in most departments there is that one employee who would like to work more effectively. Take advantage of this motivation and start with a subarea as a pilot project. Also think about the special cases that can occur in day-to-day business and give the team the time for a reasonable test phase.

You are curious now and want to know more about SIGMA's Digital Logistics Solutions? No problem. You can find more information here and here.