Pick Modules: Moving to the Rhythm of Order Fulfillment
While not a fan of reality TV, I will occasionally land on the show, “Dancing with the Stars.” I can appreciate the grace and precision of two people moving and reacting to each other while keeping in step with the music. Done well, it is a thing of beauty.
The same is true watching the workflow of a high-volume order fulfillment center. Done well, it is a thing of beauty. However, achieving this level of poetry in motion requires the right setup that allows for maximum order picking throughput. It all starts with a pick module.
Let’s discuss how a well-designed pick module can help your team move in time with one another.
What is a Pick Module?
Instead of focusing dance moves on one partner, the pick module effortlessly engages with multiple partners (components). Moving in harmony with pallet storage and carton flow in combination with conveyor systems, the pick module consolidates movement in a small area instead of the entire warehouse floor.
The partners of the pick module include several pieces of equipment such as pallet racks (for flow and reserve), carton flow racks, static racks, conveyors and other equipment depending on the application. Each serves a purpose to enable maximum efficiency and productivity while filling orders of all sizes.
As most pick modules are multi-level, order fulfillment is available allowing for picking individual cartons, totes, carts, pallet jacks and forklifts—simultaneously. There is no need for additional storage. Pick modules allow for order picking and product replenishment to be an integrated process often using gravity flow conveyors to move products from the replenishment racks to the fulfillment area.
Components of a Pick Module
Each pick module has its own series of components.
Most pick modules contain selective pallet racks as their main storage and support systems, but you can also include carton flow racks and other storage methods. You can support your floor and overhead components by integrating cross-aisle beams into the pallet racks. Be sure to customize your aisle size to accommodate any foot or tire traffic your operation requires. This will make it easier for your team to get into the pick module rhythm.
The floor of your pick module can be a variety of materials. Based on the needs of your team, it can be steel plank, plywood or other sheet materials. Most commonly, floors in pick modules are bar grates. This option provides sufficient light and air movement from the upper to lower levels, which saves you money on electrical setups and power. Solid sheet flooring is more comfortable for walking and rolling carts, so it is important to consider the needs of your team.
Common Pick Module Configurations
Different pick module configurations are like different styles of dance—they offer a variety ways to get a similar, beautiful effect. Let’s go over a few common configurations so you can get a better idea of which may be best for your operation.
This is by far the most popular choice due to its simplicity and versatility. The catwalk mezzanine is a hybrid configuration that mixes a pick module and regular shelving.
This configuration is right for you if you have smaller orders with minimal parts since it holds inventory on racks directly. On the upper levels, forklifts load new products to replenish the removed product. As the new product gets added, a worker must pack down the pallet and place the inventory on the racks or shelves by hand.
Full Case Picking
These configurations require workers to walk down a picking aisle and pull product from the picking module either by hand or with a pallet jack, cart or other machinery. On either side of the picking aisle, workers replenish stock using forklifts.
This configuration is right for you if your team needs to maximize the value of a smaller space or a smaller workforce.
Broken Case Picking
For larger operations that need all hands on deck, this configuration adds steps for carton flow, bins and shelving for holding inventory that is ready to be picked. This is because broken case picking involves an extra team member to pack down the pallets into individual products, so pickers can focus on single items.
If your operation has a high number of smaller products, this may be the best configuration for you.
No matter which of the above configurations you’ve chosen, adding conveyor systems can make a major difference in your throughput because it mechanizes the process. In these pick modules, a conveyor in the picking aisle cuts down on travel time and allows pickers to focus on moving as many products as possible.
The Benefits of a Pick Module
Because the dance of fulfillment requires a smaller footprint than previous order fulfillment models, the pick module offers savings in several ways:
1. Less wasted time. You pay employees for the time spent picking orders, not walking your entire facility looking for products. The pick module consolidates order fulfillment reducing the amount of non-productive time.
2. More growth without expanding or moving from your current facility. It’s possible a warehouse at capacity can gain 30 to 40 percent more space with a pick module in place.
3. Timely rotation of products. The first in, first out design of the pick module ensures products rotate in a timely manner. This is helpful in reducing spoilage for time-sensitive products.
4. Flexibility to pick in product configurations of single items to full pallets.
5. Modular design enables growth without investing in new equipment.
6. WMS compatible. Capable of working in conjunction with warehouse management systems (WMS).
There you have it. The pick module is a complete partner in the material handling dance.
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What Operations Should Use a Pick Module?
The only question remaining is whether this product is compatible with your material handling dance style.
Is your operation:
• High volume?
• Requiring high throughput?
• Moving date-sensitive product?
• Spread out over a large facility?
Then a pick module may be the perfect solution.
Find High-Quality and Affordable Pick Modules
Concerned about price? New pick modules are on the expensive side. Quality used options are available, but it’s important to look for a reputable dealer. Regardless of the pick module you choose, the return on investment in terms of productivity will have you dancing a jig.
Want to dance your way to material handling success? We’ve got you covered. At East Coast Storage Equipment, we provide customized equipment solutions that maximize space and efficiency in your warehouse.