There are a large number of methods to effectively pick orders. When performed properly, they form one of the backbones that help maintain the workflow in a warehouse or distribution center.  Of course, picking can’t all be done manually by hand since it’s highly inefficient. There is a lot of equipment and software available that helps companies and their employees retrieve items for an order quickly and productively, not the least of which includes enterprise resource planning software extensions such as Microsoft Dynamics NAV Barcode Scanning.

Other equipment options in order picking are just as important, such as the method of moving items from point to point. With a variety of automated machinery available, businesses must make an informed decision regarding what they use since it serves as a capital infrastructure investment that’s expected to last years. The two most common choices are conveyors and carousels, each with their own advantages and disadvantages.

Down the line on the conveyor belt
Conveyors are a common sight in many of the larger distribution centers, and with good reason. As logistics firm DC Velocity noted, conveyors run primarily on a zone-based system, with belts all throughout the warehouse. After an item gets its barcode scanned, it goes down the conveyor line, routed based on its order number. Systems are now in place that map out the entire path of an order without any loss in speed or productivity. Linked to the ERP software or warehouse management system, the machines have direct logistical connections to such functions as packing and transport. In a large enough setting, it’s possible to run up to 150 lines an hour.

There are various advantages to conveyors over manual or vehicle-based picking. Their automation minimizes the need for forklifts and other vehicles to move orders around, even when there are large pallet-based orders to complete. The equipment performs the heavy lifting, minimizing foot traffic and the risk of injury for employees. It allows a greater level of complexity for the use of different functions and needs such as small orders or batch-based ordering. However, there are also challenges with conveyors. They’re very expensive and complex to implement due to the different organizational layouts a company needs to automate. They also require a sufficiently organized warehouse for them to work, which not every company has.

Going around the carousel
An alternative to conveyor belts is carousels in horizontal and vertical forms. Modern Materials Handling noted that while carousel technology hasn’t gotten many of the various upgrades that occurred in the last few decades, it’s still a machine worth considering due to its efficiency. As Inventory Ops suggested, the standard practice is that a business can incorporate racks that move based on the employees’ needs, with bins containing specific small items for a batch or single order. There is still a requirement to transport or move items around, but it can happen with a greater degree of control.

For many businesses, there’s a certain appeal to carousel-based systems. They’re far more space efficient than conveyor systems or even conventional storage methods. They also allow a fast picking rate, with a possible level of efficiency of 400 lines per hour. They also have the means to integrate different concepts such as pick to light. However, carousels are both expensive and quite inflexible. Distributors that have a stable business model won’t have a problem with this, but for companies that change their inventories every couple of years, it may be an impractical solution due to the constant retooling required. Either option requires thoughtful consideration and implementation with current equipment and labor levels, so companies should choose carefully.

Warehouses looking to improve their warehouse efficiency through NAV Barcode Scanning should download the white paper “Keeping the Physical World and the Virtual World in Sync” today.