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Pick-to-light and Put-to-light

Pick-to-light and Put-to-light Enable Flexible Order Fulfillment

   Lisa Howard

Pick-to-light and Put-to-light Enable Flexible Order Fulfillment

It’s that time of year again when everyone vows to eat less, sleep better and exercise more. Close behind these promises is another popular New Year’s resolution: “No more settling; this is the year I’m going to get what I want!” For e-commerce retail customers, this means getting exactly what they ordered within the promised delivery time frame. The last thing they want is to be on the receiving end of someone else’s mistake. Today’s leading distribution and fulfillment center operators are turning to pick-to-light and put-to-light technologies to make sure they meet these escalating service level agreements. 

Consumers now have multiple ways to place an order and don’t want the hassle of returning wrong items, waiting an extra day for delivery or paying more (even though they want more).

But with the continued rise of e-commerce, changing order profiles, the ever-growing number of SKUs and high order volumes, giving customers what they want is, well, complicated

But it doesn’t have to be. Even though orders may be getting smaller and expectations are higher, DCs can now leverage pick-to-light and put-to-light technologies to achieve economies of scale in batch-order scenarios that efficiently aggregate demand. 

So, how can DCs deal with ever-increasing pick requirements, higher order volumes and more single-line orders? With these three main ingredients:

  • Light-directed picking methodologies
  • Adaptable pick-to-light and put-to-light applications
  • Put wall order consolidation

In short, we’re describing flexible order fulfillment. While this can be accomplished to some degree with voice picking and RF technologies, more DCs are realizing positive impacts using pick-to-light and put-to-light options. In other words, they’re letting software and hardware do the work so their employees can pick more items at fewer pick locations — without sacrificing speed or accuracy. 

What do we mean by the terms pick-to-light and put-to-light? We can start by describing what they aren’t.

Consider a typical RF situation: employees scan an item, read a screen, pick the item and verify the pick. It’s in the redirection of their vision where mistakes can crop up. In a pick-to-light or put-to-light system, there’s no diversion of sight.
 
Now picture a system where a light indicates a pick and a simple confirmation (the pushing of a light) affirms it, all while employees keep their vision directed on the item at hand and the ongoing instruction coming from the pick lights. It’s also often referred to as light-directed picking or order fulfillment.

With light-directed order fulfillment, the sophisticated communication necessary in today’s omnichannel, e-commerce retail is simplified into a light- and touch-based workflow to facilitate the fulfillment and delivery of numerous orders.

Put-to-light is the reverse of the pick-to-light process and is often the basis of put wall order consolidation. Rather than employees moving to the goods, products come to them in donor totes from picking zones in a DC. There, they are then quickly sorted and placed into their respective light-enabled cubbies on a put wall for pack-out. 

Combined, both methods result in an order fulfillment process that delivers value to DC operators and customers alike: 

  • Maximum picking accuracy and efficiency
  • Accurate order consolidation and pack-out
  • Order fulfillment that meets customer service level agreements 

With the speed, accuracy and efficiency gained from pick-to-light and put-to-light workflows, employees can even pick across multiple zones in a DC for multi-line orders, then send those picks for consolidation as individual, discrete orders at the put wall. Gone are the days of individual “pick and pack” that eat up time and lead to mistakes.

These are just a few examples of how pick-to-light and put-to-light systems are making e-commerce customers’ dreams come true in 2019. To learn more about how to implement these efficiencies in your DC, download our white paper.