What is wave picking?

Wave picking is a methodology for organizing the picking orders inside a warehouse. The following steps shall take place:

  1. Aggregate the orders by a certain (or multiple) logistic criterias. Each aggregation is called “wave”;
  2. Assign each wave to an operator that shall collect all the items through a certain route. Although the route can have a specific duration, it doesn’t have to be that way;
  3. Finish the orders’ preparation in a specific zone (Packing Zone). Put them, in order, in the Loading Zone.

Logistic criterias may be shipping date, number of lines, warehouse zones or any other (logistic) criteria that makes sense for your business.

Wave picking allows teams to meet specific goals such as filling a certain number of orders per shift or meeting a shipping deadline, instead of scheduling a certain number of operators per shift and hoping everything will flow accordingly.

How to use the wave picking method?

There are several variants of wave picking. However, it may be said that it uses the basic principles of batch picking and picking by areas.

It may be an extremelly efficient way to organize your pickings, if you have many orders with the same items. Instead of going several times to the same place/collect the same items, the picker collects all the quantity needed at once. Afterwards, those quantities are separated to the different orders/customers (the picker can also use a multi-tote while picking to separate the orders).

Working with wave picking should occur with the help of a WMS. A software prepared to work with this method can improve efficiency to your operations. It requires complex data analysis.

For example, to aggregate your orders until a certain amount of time is fulfilled (say 3 hours of picking), assign the picker and assuring the optimal route, needs a computer to do that. In between these 3 hour slots, it can still plan a 1h30 hour slot for replenishment of the picking areas.

Another hypothesis is to know the carrier will be picking up the cargo at 12AM and all the orders arriving until 10AM will be considered for the wave starting at 10AM. While the rest will be included in the next wave.

It is important to know, however, that a basic rule is that once a wave has started, there will be no changes until it is finished. This is one of the main differences when comparing to a waveless picking.

Why to use the wave picking method?

You should consider to use wave picking method if:

  1. A WMS is in place. Line aggregation, sorting and allocation to the operators is a complex operation. Therefore it is wise to use a software to help;
  2. Picking is man-to-product, there are many locations and the items are of easy access;
  3. There are many different items and they are light weighted.

However, due to several other factors, you should analyze carefully and understand if wave picking is the right method for your warehouse and value proposition.


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