The focus on more efficient case picking has intensified with the consumer shift toward online purchasing. Yes, this shift has been happening for the last few years, but the challenges of 2020 have brought it to the forefront. We’re fulfilling smaller orders whether direct to consumers or to retail stores with lower on-hand stock, and it’s become imperative to find the most cost-effective way to meet this shift in demand.
As with most things, there is no one solution to fit all needs. The smartest approach remains to store and pick based upon volume, but the goal is to do that within the smallest footprint with the least cost in labor and equipment.
Here are some tried and true solutions and best application practices to help you make the best choice for your order processing operation.
Dedicated Case Picking by Volume – Rule of Thumb
- Full case from pallet flow – fastest movers, high-volume SKUs
- Full case from carton flow – medium to slow-moving SKUs
- Case pick from static rack or shelving – slow-moving SKUs
For your medium to slower-moving SKUs, it makes sense to stock cases by SKU with some reserve storage in carton flow or on static rack or shelves. The inventory is kept in a condensed footprint which minimizes travel, and SKUs are kept in clearly identifiable lanes or segments to boost accuracy and pick rates.
Where the product is moving at high-volume rates picking cases directly from full pallets is likely the best option. Can that be done from floor-stacked pallets? Sure, but dynamic storage rack like pallet flow offers more efficient productivity and safer warehouse operations making it well worth the investment.
1. FIFO Case Picking
Pallet flow rack provides the perfect solution for First-In/First-Out (FIFO) inventory storage and case picking from pallets. The pallet flow lanes can be configured using wheeled or roller rails that are carefully selected to best address the pallet and inventory specs. Lanes are floor-mounted for easy access and ergonomic picking with lift table options for heavier stock. Cases can be picked to pallets for mixed pallets or to conveyor… but even that is not all…
Benefits of Floor-Mounted Pallet Flow for Case Picking
- Easy access to cases
- Pallet separators ensure safe picking and easy empty pallet removal
- Reserve storage — as deep as necessary
- Ergonomic picking – lift table design available if needed
- Congestion-free load and pick areas
- Separate SKU lanes for fast, accurate identification
- Supports First-In/First-Out inventory rotation
Pallet flow lanes can be designed to handle stock and pallets of all shapes and sizes. The pallets are loaded from a rear aisle allowing pickers to be free from dangerous interactions with warehouse equipment. In deep-lane configurations, case pick pallet separators hold rear pallets back removing the back pressure upon the front pallet. This separation makes it safe and easy to remove the empty pallet. Flow lanes can also be configured within the pick area to quickly remove the empty pallets from the pick area again to keep it clutter-free and safe!
Not every case pick application is a FIFO rotation… so let’s look at LIFO applications.
2. LIFO Case Picking
Push-back storage rack is most often used for full pallet storage and retrieval supporting Last-In/First-Out (LIFO) inventory rotation. For case picking, the push-back rack would floor-mounted for easy picker access. One benefit of using push-back is that it requires less floor space than a traditional pallet flow lane in that it uses single-aisle access for load and pick functions. In the right application, it can serve as an efficient option for case-picking for fast-moving, date-sensitive SKUs.
But not all push-back storage is the same. Actually, two options exist for this dynamic LIFO case picking solution:
- Traditional push-back carts
- Push-back pallet flow
Here is how the two systems compare.
Push-Back Cart Systems
Push-back lanes designed using traditional carts. For case picking applications, it is still required that forklifts load pallets and, RMI recommends that forklifts also remove empty pallets to protect workers from dangerous back pressure and pallet hang-ups. Additionally, it is recommended that push-back lanes be limited to two pallets deep to, again, minimize the back pressures of the rear pallets transferred to the front pallet.
Push-Back Pallet Flow Systems
Pallet flow lanes can be designed as push-back to meet LIFO inventory rotation needs and/or to accommodate floor space challenges. Again, there is greater flexibility in designing your gravity flow lane when using push-back pallet flow than a traditional cart system. Choosing wheeled or roller rails can help you better meet the type of pallet or inventory, particularly for non-standard pallets, without expensive cart modifications and accessories.
Let Gravity Take Over
Lastly, consider pairing your dynamic case picking operation with gravity conveyor and really put the power of gravity to work for you. Mallard gravity conveyor rack is also available in wheeled or roller options with easy to assemble sections to satisfy your facility flow. All our gravity conveyor products are manufactured with the same dedication to quality as our pallet flow and carton flow products.
We know that long-lasting, low-maintenance, dependable solutions are what our customers are not only looking for, but what they deserve… and we’re here to deliver. Call the Mallard gravity flow rack specialists to discuss your current warehousing challenges and future expectations and we’ll work with you to find the best, “make-sense” solutions.