Increasing Order Picking Efficiencies… One Layer at a Time

How the right layer picking system can revolutionize your order fulfillment:

Layer Picking with Pallet Racking and Safety Netting

Layer picking is a method of order selection used in high-volume staging or mixing centers that allows for full layers of cases to be picked in one single pick from a pallet using a clamp or suction attachment device. Layer picking applications have steadily gained in popularity, especially over the last 5 years, specifically in high-volume, case-pick applications – i.e. grocery & beverage, to meet the increasing demand for product and ever expanding SKU volume.  Layer picking produces an exponential increase in pick rates vs. manual case selection.

Here’s a look at some of the design and application options available for layer-picking systems, from simple forklift attachments to highly automated AS/RS integration:

Major Types of Layer Picking:

  • Forklift with clamp or suction attachment – low-automation solution that is highly effective for most mixing areas. Picks one or more layers at a time as needed.
  • Robot clamping or suction tool on overhead gantry – high-automation design where WCS receives order information from the WMS and builds order pallet with minimal human contribution.
  • Overhead gantry system in conjunction with AS/RS – AS/RS can provide automatic replenishment of SKUs to the layer-picking system and/or can store orders. Single and mixed-SKU pallets can be collected by layer then transported to the dock for shipping.

So what do we mean in real, measurable terms when we say businesses are seeing big benefits from layer picking?

Well for example, one forklift operator with a clamping layer pick attachment can fill orders at an average speed of 1250 cases an hour compared to 250 cases an hour manually… that’s a 400% pick rate increase if you’re keeping score.  And that is using a relatively low automation layer-pick solution.

Benefits of Layer Picking:

  • Just-in-time order fulfillmentlayer picking illustration
  • Increased efficiency
  • Reduced labor costs
  • Increased order-pick accuracy
  • Pick up one layer, multiple layers, or full pallet in one “pick”
  • Automatic product tracking within the warehouse
  • Material-flow data for reviewing processes, order-picking efficiency, and productivity for constant efficiency monitoring

Here’s a description of how a low-automation system works:

  1. layer picking floor guideHigh-volume SKUs that have a high volume of case picks are stored in a mixing area. The forklift with layer pick attachment is guided up and down the lane sometimes by a driver or, depending on the equipment, by padded guides that move along an angled floor-mounted guide. (photo right).
  2. The hydraulic clamp is positioned over the product to select the first layer or layers of cases to begin building the order. The clamp secures the layer and closes in tightly on all four sides of the cases to keep them together while being moved.
  3. The picked cases are loaded onto a waiting pallet, located either in the center aisle or at the end of the mixing center depending on space and application. The order is on its way to being completed.
  4. An order can be completed or partially filled with a layer picker and completed manually if necessary… making layer picking a very flexible addition to your picking operation.
  5. The final pallet may look like this: layer 1 & 2 SKU A, layer 3 SKU B and layer 4&5 SKU C, etc. This pallet can be filled in minutes via automated layer picking vs. conventional manual picking.

Restocking can be done in bulk stacking where forklift operators can also remove the shrink wrap as they restock.  Another very efficient restocking option is to add pallet flow lanes to the mixing area.  Pallet flow lanes automatically replenish the pick face and keep a constant supply of rear pallets ready to move in as the pick face is emptied.

Another way to boost replenishment efficiency and save space is to again use pallet flow for the layer pick lanes while using push-back above to accommodate additional reserve storage.  One caveat to this method is that your application needs to be full-pallet pick and not partial-pallet pick. For full-pallet applications this can be very effective. Here’s how that would look:

Push-Back Pallet Flow for Layer Picking

  • The pallet flow lanes feed pallets with high-volume cases to the center pick lane. A pallet separator locks and holds the front pallet approximately 6-12” in front of the rear pallets so that the clamping attachment can easily access all four sides of the layer.  Once the front pallet is empty, the next pallet in the lane is released to the front pallet position.
  • Pallet flow lanes are quickly replenished from the push-back rack located above the pallet flow lanes.

This is just one example of how customization of existing systems can revolutionize your picking operation.  Give us a call to discuss more unique layer-picking solutions and automation options.  We can work together to find just the right solution for your needs and your budget.