Case Picking – Add Some Magic

By James M. Apple, Jr.

Rather than waving a wand, try a little inconsistency in how you pick.

Sadly, case picking is not always as easy as you might hope it would be. However, there are a few tricks that can help make life a little easier for the picker and a little more productive for the warehouse.

During the last few weeks, I’ve had opportunities to use some of those tricks at several distribution centers that have case picking operations with significantly different characteristics. Here’s what I found up my sleeve.

At one location, the picking standard was the OHIO principle – only handle it once. It’s a tough principle to dispute. Nevertheless, it is important to know when you can violate it to your benefit.

You don’t want to ignore OHIO with the very fastest movers. It’s best to receive them directly into pallet flow lanes and then pick from there for either individual orders or to satisfy the requirements of a batch.

The principle works well with the very slow movers too. They can be stored randomly in pallet locations, or for very small quantities, hand-stacked on decked racking. With each receipt in a new location, picking will be directed from one location to another as each is emptied. Cases for several small orders may be picked as a batch to minimize travel of the orderpicking truck and then sorted at the dock.

It’s the medium movers that encourage us to violate the principle. These are probably picked most productively from floor level positions to a pallet jack or lift truck. However, it’s best to replenish the medium movers from reserve locations in the upper levels of the rack.

At another facility, very large cases were presenting several handling challenges. Not only are they heavy but some are too big to convey. Others are stacked on tall pallets. Furthermore, very large cases quickly fill a pallet.

Here are five ways to address these conditions:

  • Locate very large cases near the shipping dock;
  • Use a clamp truck to pick layers, or to split them into two shorter pallets for easier picking access;
  • Use vacuum or clamping devices to assist in handling individual cases;
  • Bring pallet loads to a central picking station where it may be used to satisfy several orders, or;
  • Reduce the pallet size from manufacturing to increase the probability of shipping full pallets for customer orders.

In one distribution center, some very large orders are picked from a very limited set of products. Pallet loads of these can be staged in a separate area. When an order quantity exceeds half of a pallet, picks can be made by reverse picking the unneeded cases, sometimes as

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part of another order.

Frequently it is desirable to have the ability to pick both full and broken case quantities from one warehouse location. To avoid housekeeping problems, and to facilitate the replenishment move, consider an auxiliary location for a few cases on a shelf above the floor level picking position, or let two products share a pallet position between them for the residual and open cases.

So, try a few of these, or create a little magic of your own. If you’d like to share some of your best case picking tricks, contact me at the e-mail address below.


James M. Apple, Jr. is a Director in The Progress Group. Prior to co-founding The Progress Group in 1991, he was a Partner with Coopers & Lybrand’s SysteCon division. During 1992-1995 he served as a Senior Systems Advisor with Vanderlande Industries, a major conveyor and systems provider in Europe.

Jim is an internationally recognized thought leader in the area of facility design and integrated distribution systems. His contributions to the improvement of distribution practices have been recognized by his receipt of the prestigious Reed-Apple Award, which is given for lifetime contributions to the advancement of the material handling profession. Jim has also received the Institute of Industrial Engineers’ Facilities Planning and Design Award. He has written numerous articles and handbook chapters on warehousing and logistics operations and is a popular speaker on logistics seminar and conference programs.

Prior to SysteCon, Jim worked as an Industrial Engineer with IBM, was Supervisor of Facilities Planning for the Oldsmobile Division of General Motors and was Executive Vice President for an automotive aftermarket parts supplier. He holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in Industrial and Systems Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Source: The Progress Group

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