Implementing pick-to-light technology into your warehouse can improve picking accuracy, increase productivity, simplify training, enable real-time inventory management, provide flexibility, and optimize the overall order fulfillment processes. By providing visual cues and real-time information, pick-to-light technology creates a more efficient and cost-effective warehouse, benefiting both businesses and their customers. Let's dig into the world of pick-to-light systems, exploring their functionalities, benefits, implementation, and technologies.
What is a Pick-to-Light System?
At its core, a pick-to-light system is a technology-driven solution that enhances order picking accuracy and efficiency in warehouses. The system employs a light module at each SKU and order location (shelves, bins or cells), to guide warehouse personnel during the picking process. Each pick-to-light module is associated with a specific SKU or order location, illuminating to indicate the quantity to be picked from that exact location.
Pick-to-light systems utilize lights and/or alphanumeric display modules (sometimes sporting multiple colors) to direct the picker to the SKU or order's exact location - removing the manual decision making from the order picking process. The worker then spends no time making a decision; instead they simply follow the light as directed - picking or putting the SKU as directed and move on.
How Does a Pick-to-Light System Work?
The pick-to-light system works in synchronization with a WMS or inventory management software, providing real-time instructions to pickers and ensuring accurate and efficient order fulfillment. Each SKU location in the warehouse is equipped with a display module or light module on the pick face. These modules consist of lights, alphanumeric displays, or numeric displays. They are typically mounted on shelves and racks or integrated directly into the ASRS solution.
Here are the basic steps of the picking process using a pick-to-light system:
- Order Indication: The WMS receives order information - such as item numbers, quantities, and order priorities. The WMS sends a signal to the pick-to-light system, indicating which SKU locations contain items to be picked for an order.
- Illumination of Lights: Upon receiving the signal from the WMS, the pick-to-light system illuminates the corresponding lights or displays at the SKU locations where the items are located. Each illuminated light represents a specific item or SKU to be picked.
- Picker Guidance: The pickers, guided by the illuminated lights, proceed to the designated storage locations indicated by the lights. The lights provide visual cues, directing the pickers to the correct items and indicate the quantities to be picked.
- Confirmation and Quantity Verification: Once the picker reaches the illuminated storage location, they confirm the pick by pressing a button or triggering a sensor on the display module. This action confirms that the correct item has been picked from that location.
- Replenishment and Stock Updates: As pickers complete the picking process, the WMS is updated in real-time regarding the items picked and their quantities. The system may trigger replenishment requests for empty storage locations to ensure stock availability.
- Order Completion and Sorting: Once all the items in the order have been picked, the system confirms order completion. Depending on the warehouse workflow, the picked items may be sorted into order containers or to a consolidation area for further processing.
- System Reset: After the order is completed, the pick-to-light system resets, turning off the lights or displays at the storage locations, ready for the next order.
To learn how pick-to-light systems work with batch picking: How to Implement Batch Picking in Your Warehouse
Advantages and Benefits of Pick-to-Light Systems
The implementation of pick-to-light systems brings a range of benefits for warehouse operations including:
- Enhanced picking accuracy: pick-to-light systems improve picking accuracy by minimizing human errors. With visual cues directing pickers to the correct location and quantity to pick, the chances of selecting the wrong item or incorrect quantity are dramatically reduced. This has led to a significant reduction in picking errors and subsequent returns, improving customer satisfaction and reducing costs.
- Increased picking speed and productivity: pick-to-light systems optimize the picking process, resulting in faster and more efficient operations. The time a worker spends at a picking destination visually scanning the shelves or storage positions to find the right part then matching it to a paper pick lists is wasted time. The visual indicators guide pickers directly to the desired items, reducing the time required for order fulfillment and allowing warehouses to process a higher volume of orders in less time for an increase in overall productivity.
- Simplified training and onboarding: pick-to-light systems are intuitive and easy to use, requiring minimal training for new warehouse employees. The visual cues provided by the lights simplify the picking process and reduce the learning curve for new pickers. This has made it easier and faster to onboard new employees, enabling warehouses to quickly ramp up their workforce during peak periods or staff turnover.
- Flexibility and adaptability: pick-to-light systems are modular and scalable, making them suitable for warehouses of various sizes and configurations. They can be easily integrated into existing warehouse infrastructure and are flexible enough to accommodate changes in product layout or storage locations. This adaptability allows warehouses to optimize their operations and easily scale their picking processes as their business grows or evolves.
- Improved order batching and sequencing: pick-to-light systems can optimize order batching and sequencing processes by guiding pickers through the most efficient paths in the warehouse. This minimizes travel time between picking locations and maximizes the overall efficiency of the picking process. By streamlining the order fulfillment workflow, warehouses can achieve higher throughput and better resource utilization.
Implementation and Integration:
To implement a pick-to-light system into your warehouse, first analyze the warehouse layout to identify optimal locations for light modules. This requires an understanding of order flow and picking patterns to ensure efficient placement.
Integration with existing warehouse management systems (WMS) or inventory management software is essential for a pick-to-light system to be successful. The pick-to-light system should communicate with the WMS, ERP or inventory management software to receive picking instructions, confirm picks/puts and update order statuses in real-time. Integration enables accurate inventory management and ensures synchronization between the pick-to-light system and other warehouse processes.
5 Pick to Light Technologies
Pick-to-light systems can be integrated into virtually every kind of storage and picking system - from static shelving and pallet rack to automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS) such as Vertical Buffer Modules, Vertical Lift Modules, Vertical Carousel Modules and Horizontal Carousels. They’ve been documented to deliver at least a 50% increase in pick rate productivity, and accuracy rates of up to 99.9%. Operators often report picking by light is like playing a video game—and much more fun than picking by paper!
There are several different types and styles available to match to different operations’ picking processes and storage systems. Here’s a brief overview of a few options and how they can be used.
1. LED Pick-to-Light Technologies
LED pick-to-light systems are designed to simplify human order picking by using LED pick lights to improve picking efficiency, picking accuracy, and process reliability. Used most often in combination with Vertical Lift Modules & Vertical Carousel Modules, the LED panel is mounted at the pick face to guide the operator through the picking process.
The LED panel directs the operator to the exact location of the part to pick and displays material and order information such as part number, description, and order quantity. Order accuracy is increased and mispicks are reduced. Often language can be customizable for multilingual communication.
2. Pick-to-Light & Put-to-Light (Batch Lights)
Used with Horizontal Carousel Modules, Vertical Carousel Modules, Vertical Lift Modules, static pick faces, shelving, mobile picking carts and cubby-hole putwalls, these pick to light modules direct an operator to pick items from (or put items to) a specific location.
Pick-to-light modules illuminate (and often blink) to indicate where the pick is stored, and often display the number of items required to pick; after the required action is complete, the operator presses a confirmation button on the module to confirm the pick (they can also indicate replenishment quantities and destinations). The same type of lights are known as put-to-light or batch lights when used for batch picking to totes or carts, and for picked item sortation and order consolidation at stationary workstations.
3. Light Pointer Technologies
Used exclusively with Vertical Lift Modules and Vertical Buffer Modules, this system deploys an LED or laser light mounted from above the pick area. Software-driven, the pointer swivels to project its light beam into the storage tray or bin and point to the location of the required item, eliminating search time in picking or replenishment.
4. Position Indicator Light Bar
Incorporated into the access openings of both Vertical Lift Modules and Vertical Carousel Modules, these LED lights illuminate in alignment with the position of the required item where it is stored in the tray.
5. Pick-to-Light: Light Tower
Integrated with Horizontal Carousel Modules, this unit houses picking display modules in an upright (tower) configuration that aligns to the carousel’s stacked storage bins. The displays indicate the active carousel, shelf level, cell location and quantity to pick. Software-driven, a single light tower serves two horizontal carousels working together in a picking pod.
Which pick-to-light technology is right for you?
As always, it depends on the application and the importance of speed and accuracy in your operations. Evaluate your warehouse requirements, budget constraints, and operational workflows to determine which pick-to-light technology aligns best with your needs.