Zone Picking Explained and How to Implement in Your Warehouse

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If you want to increase efficiency and picking times, consider creating a zone picking system. It’s the best way to keep your employees on task and your inventory moving when dealing with lots of different SKUs at once. If you’re new to this term, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about zone picking and how to implement it at your facility. 

What Is Zone Picking?

This model means breaking up your storage space into a series of zones. Each worker is responsible for a single zone. They oversee picking, stocking, sorting and organizing all the items stored in the zone. The size of these zones usually varies based on demand, product size and SKU variation. Every worker should be able to keep up with demand as new orders come in throughout the day.

Some facilities will use the pick-and-pass system, which means passing goods from one zone to another. Products may move from Zone A to Z, until it reaches the loading dock, as workers add products along the way. There is usually only one hand-off per shift. Staff can move goods by hand or using a conveyor belt, much like an assembly line.

It’s best to install a separate workstation in each zone, so workers don’t have to go out of their way to enter information into the system. 

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Benefits of Zone Picking 

The best part about zone picking is your team doesn’t have to worry about traversing the entire facility. They get to stick to a certain aisle, area or cluster of shelves instead of running around for eight hours straight. Zone picking should decrease picking times across the board. 

It’s great for warehouses and distribution centers that process a wide variety of SKUs. Without zone picking, it may take workers several minutes or more to find the items they need.

Zone picking gives your team more time to familiarize themselves with the products on the shelf. Some workers stay in the same zone for years on end, giving them a chance to build on their knowledge and expertise.  

Disadvantages of Zone Picking

Zone picking may not be the right choice for everyone. Smaller facilities with fewer SKUs may find little value in a zoning system. 

Employees are often managing multiple orders and SKUs at the same time, which can lead to delays in some areas. Some packages might get held up in the supply chain as the order moves from one zone to the next. Make sure your containers have enough time to move through the facility, so you don’t have to worry about running short on time or missing the delivery window.

Many facilities use automation to reorganize these zones in real-time based on demand. Some zones may be busier than others, making it difficult to keep your team on task. 

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How to Get Started

Start by analyzing how much time your workers spend picking items, so you have something to compare the results to. Consider various layouts for organizing your facility into zones. Certain items may get lumped together based on demand, shipping destination, carrier, vendor, size or shape. Discuss these options with your team to come up with a system that works for everyone. 

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Separating your inventory into zones can be expensive. It may mean rearranging your inventory from scratch, which could require several days of downtime. You may have to invest in a new set of containers, not to mention retraining your employees.

It’s best to keep your goods visible on the shelf for faster retrieval times. Use industrial wire baskets to store larger items, so your workers can recognize the contents right away. Metal storage bins and plastic totes are perfect for organizing smaller items that might otherwise go missing. Use metal storage containers to keep these goods from wandering off when you need them most.

Experts recommend running a simulation using a warehouse management system to see if these changes will ultimately benefit your facility, so you can reach ROI. You don’t want to spend days, as well as thousands of dollars, rearranging your goods for marginal improvements. 

You may want to invest in automation when implementing zone picking. It’s usually much faster to move products on a conveyor belt than it is to move them by hand. Wondering “How much does it cost to automate a warehouse?” Follow that guide to learn!