Order picking

Picking goods is the process of combining items from the total quantity into one order. The warehouse management system controls the picks from the storage bins using various picking methods.

Who is a picker?

The picker brings together the goods for the customer orders. You can read more about this in the Wiki article: Picker

Order picking
Picture: Order picking in the tote warehouse

In the article you will find not only the definition or meaning, but important information about picking methods and picking times.

Order picking at a glance

The merging of orders in a warehouse or production is done manually by the employees(pickers ) or automatically by picking robots and machines. The difference can basically be described as follows:

  • Man-to-Ware (manual)
  • Goods-to-man (semi-automatic)
  • Fully automatic order picking

Manual order picking

In a manual process, goods are assembled with the help of pick lists or various pick systems. Working with paper is increasingly being replaced by paperless picking. The supporting systems guide the picker to the appropriate storage locations using various picking methods. They support him and control the removal of the goods.

The picker moves through the warehouse to pick the goods from the pallets, flow racks, shelf racks, etc. The picker is then able to pick the goods from the shelves. For this reason, the method is called man-to-goods.

Semi-automatic order picking

The principle of the semi-automatic picking method is reversed. The goods are automatically transported in load carriers(containers or even entire shelves) from the warehouse to the picking station and made available for the picker to access.

The picker therefore remains at his workstation and has the task of removing the goods from the load carriers in a suitable number of pieces and distributing them to the customer orders. For this reason, the semi-automatic method is often referred to as goods-to-man.

Fully automatic order picking

In a fully automated picking method, the picking machines and picking robots completely replace the employee. However, this picking method is only suitable for certain items, whereby not only the goods themselves, but also economic efficiency always plays a decisive role in the selection of the picking method.

Often, the fully automated processes are too expensive to purchase and have some disadvantages in terms of operating costs.

In this article we show you which manual picking methods (man-to-goods) work best. We don't just give you tips or definitions for them, but explain in detail why paperless picking has clear advantages over the conventional pick list.

The manual picking processes

In addition to a pick list, many system-supported picking processes are available to us today. Depending on the requirements, different systems can be used. The best and often used picking methods include:

  • Pick-by-Scan
  • Pick-to-Light
  • Voice Picking
  • Pick-by-Point®
  • Pick-by-Frame®
  • Pick-by-Cart
  • Pick-by-Watch®
  • Pick-by-Tablet

There are also some extensions and special solutions from LUCA Logistic Solutions:

  • Pick-Radar®
  • Pick-by-Weight
  • Pick-by-RFID
  • Pick-by-ePaper®

All LUCA systems can be found in the "Systems" menu or in the list on the top right-hand side. All these systems are managed by a central LUCA-Server and can also be used as combinations in single-step picking. In this case, we speak of hybrid solutions. With all these systems, picking orders can be processed faster, without separate training.

Picking times

To make manual picking efficient and deliver to the customer quickly, the following times must be recorded and optimised in the process.

What is a picking time?

The picking time is a sum of the individual times required for picking:

Picking time = base time + travel time + pick time + auxiliary time (dead time) + distribution time

Base time

The basic time includes the organisational activities before and after the picking process:

  • Printout of the pick lists from the warehouse management software (if not voucherless)
  • Preparation of the cardboard boxes, containers, corlettes or pallets
  • Passing on the picked orders

Travel time

The travel time defines the time for the order picker to travel between the individual storage zones and storage bins. This time can have a very large impact on overall picking performance. The most important factors include:

  • Size of the picking zones and the path to the next pick
  • Orientation in the warehouse to find the storage compartment (aisle, row of shelves, shelf level)

Here, the possibility of the Multi-Order-Picking method should also always be investigated.

Gripping time

Once the picker has arrived at the shelf, the time for accessing the goods is measured. The picking time is also called the removal time or picking time. This includes the following activities:

  • Access to the articles
  • Counting the quantities
  • Placement of the number of pieces in the picking container

The optimisation of the gripping time and the error rate is often related to a system-side support for counting the number of items. Otherwise, the gripping time itself cannot be optimised much and also depends on the way the products are stored (pallet spaces, flow racks, shelf racks, etc.).

Secondary time (also called dead time)

Before the order picker can access the goods, there are other additional processing activities that must be included. These include:

  • Searching the storage compartments
  • Opening and closing the boxes or containers in the storage compartment
  • Climbing ladders or using assistive devices
  • Recording of serial numbers, if required
  • Safety packaging of the articles
  • Withdrawal acknowledgement
  • Application of lettering and labels

The non-productive time (dead time) is strongly dependent on the required additional process steps and can also be optimised quite well. The time for training is not taken into account.

Distribution time

Distribution time includes non-productive activities that are highly dependent on staff motivation and their attitude towards the work. These include:

  • Break times for personal needs (WC, smoking)
  • Unnecessary conversations with work colleagues (often about private topics)
  • Waiting for next instructions from superiors
  • Waiting for systems to react (e.g. due to slow controls and non-optimal processes).

The optimisation of distribution time is strongly linked to organisation, staff motivation and the working climate.

Picking methods

In practice, it is about the optimal distribution and design of order throughput times in order to pick a customer order quickly and cost-effectively. For this reason, the organisational processes are often designed differently in order to minimise the effort. The basic methods include the following variants of picking methods:

Order-oriented, serial picking

A customer order is processed one after the other in different storage zones by one or more warehouse workers. This picking method is simple and does not require any elaborate organisation. The training and definition of responsibilities for the order pickers is simple. Disadvantages of the method are long travel times (long picking routes) and the unregulated transfer of orders to the next picking zone. The total order throughput time is not optimal.

Order-oriented, parallel order picking

Each order is separated into several partial orders so that the merging of the items can take place in parallel. The division of the orders into partial orders can be done according to various criteria, e.g. according to storage zones, according to item volume for transport, according to packaging criteria, etc. After picking, the partial orders are then merged.

Order throughput times are significantly shorter in order-oriented parallel picking than in order-oriented serial picking. However, the overall material flow, the organisation when combining the partial orders and the uneven utilisation of the individual storage zones are more problematic. However, they can be well regulated with an appropriate material flow control system and automatic conveyor technology.

Series-oriented, parallel order picking

Before starting, the total orders are first grouped into series and distributed to the individual storage zones in parallel. However, the orders are not to be grouped arbitrarily, but rather series-oriented in such a way that a maximum number of withdrawals is to take place per storage bin. The articles are first collected and then distributed to the individual orders.

The advantage of this series-oriented picking method is that a storage location only has to be approached once per series and not per individual order.

This saves walking distances and shortens the order throughput time. The distribution of the articles can take place directly at the pick-up with the help of Pick-by-Cart or Pick-by-Frame®. The alternative is later distribution at special workstations with Put-to-Point® or Put-to-Light. The series-oriented picking method requires sophisticated technical support.

Read more details about the individual picking methods and find out exactly which picking method should be used when.

Example of the process of a simple order picking

The individual orders are recorded in a warehouse management system and any partial orders are generated from them. The compilation (preparation or consolidation) of the goods for packaging or delivery for production is called consolidation, which we will describe in detail later in a separate article. The process organisation can be very different here.

In the following points we will directly compare a picker with a paper pick list and a picker with paperless picking and present the advantages and disadvantages in the individual steps. The training is simple.

Start of orders

In a process with a pick list, the picker takes the next printed order with him and simply starts his activity.

Paperless picking orders are activated using different methods, e.g. by using barcode scanners (for example: delivery note, collection unit, container or carton), RFID or by activating the orders on a MDE terminal. The technology used depends strongly on the desired process and number of storage zones.

The disadvantage of document-based picking at the start is that the pick slip can get lost, which can lead to a complete error in order processing. For this reason, special printers are set up for the picking slips in order to avoid a possible loss of the picking orders through unintentional taking of the picking slips, which would happen very quickly with generally used printers.

The advantage of paperless picking here is that the start time can be recorded precisely.

Guided tour to the campsite

If the picker has a conventional pick list in his hand, he must read off the next storage location designation, find the storage location in the storage zone and visually check it. Disadvantage: Errors often happen here after many hours of work, which lead to serious quality losses.

With paperless picking, the employee is guided visually or acoustically to his picking compartment. For quality assurance, the picker must confirm the storage location by reading the barcode or by voice, depending on the picking method. The best, fastest and safest picking methods here include: Pick-to-Light, Voice Picking, Pick-by-Frame, Pick-by-Point and Pick-by-Watch. Among the worst picking practices in a warehouse are data goggle applications: Pick-by-Vision.

The clear advantage over the paper list here is the safeguarding through the confirmation of the storage location and the direct reaction of the system to an error. The high picking performance is characterised by the short travel time (search time).

Goods withdrawal

If the employee has already arrived at the correct storage compartment with the pick list, he must find the appropriate text line again and read off the number of items correctly. Reading off the number of items is one of the biggest sources of error in paper-based picking. Here, the order picker's ability to concentrate for several hours is very much in demand.

With paperless picking, the employee is shown the quantity directly at the storage location or on his mobile device. With the voice-guided system, the quantity is displayed in the headset. The advantage here is that the employee can concentrate better on the work and the system informs him about the next step at the appropriate time.

In both cases, the employee must count out the appropriate quantity himself. For large quantities, we recommend the use of counting scales and a Pick-by-Weight system.

Confirmation of the quantity

The withdrawal quantity is "ticked off" on a picking list with a biro or the shortfall is noted, which then has to be manually reworked later in order processing.

The withdrawal quantity is booked automatically and immediately in a paperless system, which is a very big advantage.


Once all items on a pick slip have been completed, the picker can leave the storage zone, pack his order himself or hand it over for further processing.

The system-side completion is realised differently. Depending on the picking procedure used, the picker is informed and clearly requested to carry out the next steps. The exact time is recorded.


Order picking in the warehouse is one of the most important activities in a logistics or production company. The quality, the error rate, the picking performance and the consolidation of partial quantities are significantly better with paperless picking systems.

The warehouse management system can accurately track each customer order in the picking process. Several data collection devices and systems are available for electronic data collection. Talk to us. We will be happy to help you optimise your order picking.

Do you have any further questions about your commissioning?

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The most important topics on order picking