What exactly is picking?

Picking is the process of combining selected articles or partial quantities of the total assortment into one order.

Order picking
Order picking in the warehouse

Picking is defined by Wikipedia as follows

Picking is the compilation of certain partial quantities (articles) from a provided total quantity (assortment) on the basis of orders. This can be a customer order or a production order. The employee who assembles the order is called the picker, picker or picker.

Source: Wikipedia

Everything at a glance

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

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

We present the individual differences here in the Dertail.

Manual 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 with different picking methods to the appropriate storage locations. They support him and control the picking of the goods.

The picker moves through the warehouse to pick goods from the pallets, flow racks, shelf racks, etc. For this reason, manual picking is referred to as man-to-goods picking.

Semi-automatic 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 to the picker in the access.

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

Fully automatic order picking

In a fully automated picking process, 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 the economic efficiency plays a decisive role in the selection of the picking method.

Often, the fully automated methods are too expensive in terms of purchase and operating costs and have some disadvantages. We will look at the features of fully automated picking in a separate article.

In this article we will 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 traditional pick list.

The manual picking process

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 at the top right. All these systems are managed by a central LUCA-Server and can also be used as combinations in order picking. In this case we speak of hybrid solutions. With all these systems picking orders can be processed faster, without separate training.

Definition of picking times

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

What is a pick 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 organizational activities before and after the picking process:

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

Away time

The travel time defines the time for the 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.

Griffin time

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

  • Access to the articles
  • quantity counting
  • Placement of the number of pieces in the picking container

The optimization of the gripping time and the error rate is often related to a system-side support for counting the number of pieces. Otherwise, the gripping time itself cannot be optimized much and also depends on the type of storage of the products (pallet spaces, flow racks, shelf racks, etc.).

Secondary time (also called dead time)

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

  • Searching the storage compartments
  • Opening and closing of the cartons or containers in the storage compartment
  • Climbing ladders or using assistive devices
  • Recording of serial numbers, if required
  • Safety packaging of the articles
  • Withdrawal confirmation
  • Application of inscriptions 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 employee motivation and attitude toward 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 optimization of distribution time is strongly linked to the organization, motivation of the employees and the working atmosphere.

The 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 involved. 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 organization. The training and definition of responsibilities for the pickers is simple. The disadvantages of this method are long travel times (long picking paths) and the unregulated transfer of orders to the next picking zone. The total order throughput time is not optimal.

Order-oriented, parallel picking

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

Order throughput times are significantly shorter in order-oriented parallel picking than in order-oriented serial picking. However, the overall material flow, the organization when combining the partial orders and the uneven utilization 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 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 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 bin only has to be accessed once per series and not per individual order.

This saves walking distances and shortens the order throughput time. The distribution of the articles can be carried out directly during the removal 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.

Example of the process of a simple picking

The individual orders are recorded in a warehouse management system and any partial orders are generated from them. The compilation (provision or consolidation) of the goods for packaging or delivery for production is then called consolidation, which we will describe in detail later in a separate article. The process organization 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 show the advantages and disadvantages in each step. The training is simple.

Start of orders

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

The activation of paperless picking orders is done with 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 picking with documents at the start is that the pick slip can get lost, which can lead to a complete error in the 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 away 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 in picking.

In 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 characterized by the short travel time (search time).

Withdrawal of goods

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 pieces correctly. Reading off the number of items is one of the biggest sources of error in document-based picking. This is where 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 ballpoint pen 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 voucherless 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 implemented 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 in the process.


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 design your picking process optimally.

Which picking system suits your company best?