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Order Picking In Step With Today’s World

In an interview with order-picking expert Hartwig Bastian, from Kardex Remstar, new strategies and various scenarios about order picking and distribution technologies and solutions are discussed.

People's ordering habits are changing radically in line with new social trends. This is why controllers in distribution logistics centers are increasingly focusing on three cost factors: materials, people and error rates. In an interview with order-picking expert Hartwig Bastian, from Kardex Remstar, new strategies and various scenarios about order picking and distribution technologies and solutions are discussed.

Mr. Bastian, why are more medium-sized businesses and controllers at major corporations now switching their focus to distribution logistics?

Hartwig Bastian: For one thing, those in charge have previously focused their attention on the efficiency of business areas such as procurement, production and sales, but companies only bring about modest improvements here, even after huge financial outlay. Until recently, distribution logistics was still associated with the outdated image of employees running back and forth between static shelving in spare parts and supply warehouses. However, this view has altered radically in recent years along with ordering habits.

What do you mean by "radically altered ordering habits"?

Bastian: Until about ten years ago, customers ordered an average of ten items per order. Although the number of orders has increased with the growth in online trade and the rise in diversified production of things such as automobiles, the number of items per order has dropped to just two. This means the picking process - the task of putting together an order made up of items from the overall product range - is much more complex. In other words, the pickers have to process five times as many orders to pick the same number of items as before.

So distribution logistics specialists need five times as many employees to achieve the same level of performance?

Bastian: That would be one option, but there is a very high cost factor involved, although even unskilled workers can very quickly learn how to pick orders. Until recently, however, hardly anyone asked themselves how much picking an item actually costs, yet managing directors and controllers now want to know precisely what it costs. Based on such calculations, they opt for manpower costing around $35,000 per picker per year, or for efficient order-picking technologies and solutions. They also do both depending on the order volume to be handled. Order picking significantly influences the efficiency of distribution logistics.

However, on what factors does the efficiency of putting together an order primarily depend on?

Bastian: Efficient order picking is crucially dependent on picking time per order line. As is generally known, this is made up of the basic time, travel time, retrieval time, dead time and distribution time and should naturally be kept as short as possible. If we compare the picking time needed per order for static and automated storage systems, the travel time offers the greatest potential for saving time. With static shelving, the picker runs all over the place and travels long and sometimes unnecessary distances in order to get to the right storage space. Automated storage systems reduce the distance traveled by the picker to a minimum. The time saved means they are able to pick more orders, which ultimately leads to an overall increase in performance.

How do automated storage and retrieval systems work?

Bastian: Let's take the example of our horizontal carousel. The horizontal carousel works in line with the "goods to person" principle, delivering items directly to an operator. This carousel is ideal in any situation where companies want to store and retrieve goods quickly. At the same time, the horizontal carousel makes optimal use of the available space. The access opening is positioned centrally at the front of the unit and the arrangement of several machines into picking stations gives pickers fast access to stored goods on minimal floor space. Employees significantly reduce the distance they cover compared to order picking from conventional, static shelving. Their travel time is cut from around 65% to 10%.

You connect several horizontal carousels together in stations? How does connecting them influence the order picking?

Bastian: Currently, we are connecting up to six units together in picking stations. The advantage is all horizontal carousels belonging to one station work simultaneously. This means warehouse employees are not waiting for goods, but can be picking continuously. In addition, integrating the horizontal carousels with warehouse management software and light directed picking technology makes order picking safer, flexible and more efficient.

What does a real scenario look like?

Bastian: Our customers work through approximately 350 order lines per hour in one picking station with one member of staff. The high throughput required during seasonal peaks has forced some companies to employ two or three additional people depending on needs.

Where is the trend heading for order picking?

Bastian: Besides the static batching of several orders when picking, dynamic batching is now also beginning to establish itself. As soon as the picker has completed one order, the next order continuously replenishes the batch. A further development is our "Fast Parts Delivery" application, which is entering the market with predefined, scalable solutions especially for the Warehouse & Distribution sector.

Kardex Remstar, LLC, a company of the Kardex Group is a leading provider of automated storage and retrieval systems for manufacturing, distribution, warehousing, offices and institutions. For information about our dynamic storage solutions, call 800-639-5805 or visit


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