As e-commerce continues to grow for smaller retailers and manufacturers, radio frequency picking (RF picking) is becoming more common among many warehouse operations. With consumer behavior shifting into online purchases and manufacturing companies moving towards online ordering, paper picking is fast becoming obsolete. With order volumes rising, paper picking cannot meet the demands of higher volumes that RF picking can accommodate.
Why Should I Transition to RF Picking and How Does it Benefit the Customer?
Data is the biggest reason for making the switch to RF picking. RF picking is integrated with a warehouse management system (WMS). The WMS is integrated into the ERP system and enables a steady flow of picking throughout the day. This provides a more stable environment and decreases the peaks and valleys that paper picking is associated with. However, one of the biggest reasons for change is the increase in productivity. Since RF picking gathers data based on the user’s pick speeds and is fed back to the WMS, the WMS can determine where the order picker is located and knows which orders are in the pipeline. This streamlines the warehouse picking operation and gives the greatest throughput for RF picking.
The other benefit to switching over to RF picking is customer satisfaction. With everyone able to shop via price, customer satisfaction is sometimes the only differentiator. If a customer gets the wrong part due to a picking error, you may have lost a customer for good. Add in return processing, and you also just increased your operations cost. RF picking enables error-free picking, which in turn increases satisfaction. Plus, the timely processing speeds up the order fulfillment process and orders are shipped faster. Warehouse personnel utilize hand held RF scanners to ensure the correct item is picked. The pick information such as pick location is shown along with product identification. The RF scan is completed, and the WMS validates the correct SKU or item number.
How to Transition from Paper Picking Processes to RF Picking and Choosing the Right WMS
Plan a transition date.
As with any project implementation, it’s best to plan a date during a slower order intake season. Make certain that your schedule includes both the implementation and the training time involved. Many projects take at least four to six months from start to finish.
Prepare for training.
Once the system is in place, warehouse personnel will need training on the new system. Early adoption of the system is key to long term success. And while most software solutions are intuitive, some users may need specialized or additional training. Typically, a one-day walkthrough and a few days for testing is all that is needed. Plan to test the system from end-to-end including order processing down to order picking and shipping.
Labor needs may change.
Once a new RF picking solution is up and running, throughputs increase and workloads stabilize. This sometimes means that operations may have too many or not enough resources. Plan on testing for several weeks and review the pick rates. Determine if peak volumes would warrant the additional labor. Sometimes, this means shifting to an additional FTE or from two FTEs to one FTE and perhaps one PTE. Every situation is different, but your WMS implementation project manager will be able to help you determine peak volume pick rates.
Leverage the WMS data.
By moving to RF picking, data is created constantly and having it readily available to analyze is critical to operations. Depending on how you wish to scale your business or streamline operations, the data you need for warehouse fulfillment is available. Work with your implementation WMS manager and understand the options that you may want to capture. Think about labor management solutions. These are easy bolt-on applications that can determine specific key performance indicators (KPIs) regarding labor. Also, key performance indicators for dashboards and reporting. All of these are available in real-time and can span multiple locations.
Determining which WMS to integrate.
While there are a lot of options on the market, look for a vendor that has been in the market for at least 10 to 20 years or longer. The best WMS solutions have gone through multiple upgrades and were built by using best practice standards. Warehouse operators just like you have helped implement these changes over time. Also, look for a company that has a solid software development team. Should you need an update or request changes to the system, you will want to ensure that these can be done smoothly and integrated into an ongoing update schedule. Plus, as your business grows, you will need even a more robust WMS to enable the next step of fulfillment. This means the WMS that you select should be a solution that can handle the next step to semi- to fully automated fulfillment solutions.
Next steps for planning.
If you are in the market for RF picking solution, contact the warehouse management system experts from SSI SCHAEFER. With decades of experience in both small and large complex distribution center fulfillment operations, the SSI SCHAEFER team can consult with you and get you on the right path.