Order fulfilment is big business. The continuing growth of e-commerce and the weight of ever-increasing customer expectations means warehouses and distribution centres are under increasing pressure to pick, pack and dispatch orders with more speed and accuracy.
In this context, it isn’t surprising that warehouse managers are looking to invest in new and emerging technologies to improve efficiency and reduce errors.
In this blog, we look at one such technology – the pick-to-light system.
What is a pick-to-light system?
A pick-to-light system is a type of order fulfilment technology used in warehouses and distribution centres to automate or part-automate the process of picking and placing different items.
A combination of lights and sensors is used to guide a picker (either human or robotic) to pick items from warehouse shelves and record the items selected. Those items are then placed onto a conveyor belt for packing.
Designed to be completely paperless, a pick-to-light system may take one of two forms:
- A manual pick-to-light system requires a human operator to select items from a list on a computer screen or from a shelf.
- An automated pick-to-light system uses sensors to identify the correct item before it is picked up by a robotic arm.
Installing either type of pick-to-light system in a warehouse can be hugely beneficial for the warehouse operator – improving efficiency and reducing picking errors while simultaneously lowering labour costs.
How does a pick-to-light system work?
With a pick-to-light system, LED lights are installed at the top of warehouse shelving or racking. These lights are programmed to switch on when a button on the shelf is pushed or in response to a worker scanning a barcode, signalling a package, product or item that needs to be picked.
Depending on how the system is set up, the light identification system can be tailored to requirements. For example, entire shelves may be lit up, or individual pick locations illuminated where this is more helpful.
With an automated pick-to-light system, a sensor automatically detects when the correct item has been picked. With a manual system, workers are required to scan the product barcode to confirm that item has been selected as identified.
Pick-to-light systems: A history
The pick-to-light system was introduced in the early 1990s as part of an overall drive to automate manufacturing processes. The company I-T-E developed a scanner that could identify the colour and thickness of plastic film and then automatically set up an injection moulding machine to reproduce it.
From these earliest iterations, the basic technology behind the system began to be used to reduce costs and improve efficiency in other areas of industry.
For instance, pick-to-light systems are also used in manufacturing production lines, where sensors detect when an object is picked up and automatically stop machinery until that item is replaced in its proper location.
Pick-to-light systems: Advantages
In logistics, pick-to-light systems are a cost-effective way to instantly improve warehouse efficiency. In many instances they can be installed within a few hours and provide instant return on investment.
Among the many benefits they bring over relying on human pickers working from a printed list are:
- Improved pick efficiency – products are located quickly and easily in their exact pick locations, leading to…
- Faster pick times – by eliminating the time taken for a human being to visually scan and locate items, the entire picking process can be completed much quicker
- Energy savings – efficient lights are only illuminated when required, and for no longer than necessary to facilitate picking.
- More accurate – the picking process is easier, and integration with app software allows for incredibly high levels of accuracy.
- Cost effective – advances in technology and the proliferation of compatible software means pick-to-light systems are much less costly than they once were. What’s more, the efficiencies they bring mean the upfront investment required to get started can be recouped in no time.
- Flexible – where appropriate, pick-to-light systems can be tailored to work in zone picking operations, following an assembly line approach to minimise walk distances and therefore boost productivity.
- More streamlined operations – pick-to-light systems are paperless, with no need for printed pick sheets or paper records. What’s more, with automated systems, robotics perform the heavy lifting, removing the manual handling burden from your team.
PALLITE® PIX®: Supporting automated warehouse picking
At PALLITE® Group, we are always innovating to make sure our products offer ultimate performance, flexibility, and usability, and that they move with the times.
As the drive for greater efficiency encourages further introduction of technology into the warehouse, we are working to optimise the design of our products to work with and alongside these technologies.
Our sustainable warehouse shelving systems, PALLITE® PIX®, work for humans and technology alike. They all help to improve pick efficiency by consolidating multiple pick faces into a single pallet racking footprint that can be tailored to suit the shape and size of different products.
PALLITE® PIX® is our original warehouse shelving unit, while PIX® SLOTS is ideal for smaller, lighter SKUs, and our PIX® XL Bin Box for larger, heavier items. Meanwhile, PIX® SLOTS Angled comes with rearwards-angled shelves.
All our PIX® warehouse storage units have palletised bases so they can be easily moved by forklift or pallet pump truck, even when fully loaded. They are mounted on a skid that can be easily adapted for use with Goods-to-Person (GTP) autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), and we are currently working on optimising their design for collaborative (co-bot) AMRs.
Meanwhile, the flat shelf edges on all units allow space for the barcodes required for use with pick-to-light systems.