With demand for consumer goods and online shopping as robust as ever, eCommerce distribution centers continue to face supply chain and labor force challenges across their operations. These challenges underscore the importance of technology for picking, sorting, putaway and order packout to boost worker productivity and customer satisfaction.
Order picking is estimated to account for more than 50% of warehouse operating costs. Warehouses that are equipped with the right technology that aids manual picking can realize significant gains in productivity.
This article describes Pick-to-Light and Pick-to-Color picking technologies and the benefits and key differences with each system.
Pick-to-Light Order Picking Technology
— What is Pick-to-Light?
Pick-to-Light Order Picking System, Source: Wikimedia Commons
Pick-to-light is an order fulfillment technology for warehouses and distribution centers that uses alphanumeric display lights and buttons at selected locations within facilities to guide manual picking and record orders for shipment. It involves picking from a light or putting to a light. The system streamlines warehouse picking and sorting operations, increases productivity, improves accuracy, and reduces labor costs. Pick-to-light comes in wired and wireless formats. Because of their expense, pick-to-light systems are generally used in limited areas of a warehouse.
— How Does Pick-to-Light Work?
The system uses alphanumeric displays and buttons at storage locations to signal inventory movements for picking, putaways, sorting and assembling. Warehouse workers scan barcodes attached to order transport containers. The alphanumeric display lights up, guiding workers to the indicated storage location. The system shows which items are to be picked and the quantity of each item. The system illuminates each location for picking until all items have been picked and placed in containers. Some pick-to-light systems offer enhanced capabilities such as special order instructions and digital readouts.
Pick-to-Color Order Picking Technology
— What is Pick-to-Color?
Pick-to-Color Order Picking
Pick-to-Color technology was developed by inVia Robotics. It is a combination of AI-powered WES software that orchestrates the fulfillment operations (inVia Logic) and the productivity software with a color-based interface (inVia PickMate) for guiding warehouse workers.
inVia Logic uses AI to optimize the placement and movement of goods and dynamically reassign tasks across the entire warehouse to minimize idle time and maximize productivity. inVia PickMate productivity tool uses the intelligence that inVia Logic creates to guide warehouse workers with simple pick-to-color directions.
— How Does Pick-to-Color Work?
inVia PickMate | Pick-to-Color Order Picking
Color-coding is an intuitive methodology that helps people process information at a glance. It also breaks up the visual monotony, improving focus, productivity and accuracy. Colors have been used in warehouse environments for years to organize inventory, label racks, indicate product aging and designate order disposition.
inVia has developed a unique “pick-to-color” solution that combines the intuitive color-coding technique with the intelligent WES software. While inVia Logic identifies efficient retrieval paths and optimal batching, pickers use a color-based interface to follow step-by-step directions to locate the item and quickly and accurately pick and place goods that are moving through the order process. The picker matches the color on the inventory container to the color on their smart device. Simple visual cues make picking and placing intuitive, improving productivity and accuracy, while lowering infrastructure costs. Unlike pick-to-light systems, which are generally used in limited areas of a warehouse due to high cost, Pick-to-Color technology can be used to improve productivity and accuracy in the entire warehouse as it does not require any infrastructure investments.
Pick-to-Light vs Pick-to-Color: Key Differences
— Fulfillment Capabilities
Pick-to-Light: This order-picking technology order picking technology is used in warehouses and distribution centers to indicate pick locations and guide order pickers through their work. Its focus is on showing which item to pick, the location, and the quantity of desired items. This solution offers different applications such as sorter picking, parts picking, sortation, kitting, replenishment, putaway, consolidation and assembly.
Pick-to-Color: technology uses AI-powered WES software that orchestrates fulfillment workflow and offers more comprehansive capabilities. Workers not only follow color-coded directions on the device, but are guided by system intelligence, which continuously adjusts parameters such as density, batching and sorting, dynamic job planning and cycle time to achieve daily SLA goals. Pickers follow most efficient paths and optimal order batching, which boosts productivity and reduces idle time throughout the workday. Pick-to-Color technology solution can be used in order picking, pallet picking, kitting, assembly, consolidation, replenishment and put-away.
Pick to Light is generally set up in limited areas of a warehouse because of its cost, and is often coupled with conveyor belts. For this reason, the system productivity can increase by 2x compared to traditional picking.
Pick-to-Color productivity gains are 2-3x compared to traditional picking. In addition, the system can be deployed across the entire warehouse as it does not require investments in infrastructure. The intelligent WES software includes features such as path planning, batching, and task assignment, all of which optimize warehouse walking, expedite operations and boost productivity.
— Pick Accuracy
Pick-to-Light: The system uses light devices to guide operators to the correct location, indicating quantities of the items needed to fulfill an order. The system offers 99%+ accuracy. Because pickers are not required to confirm the number of items they are picking and are unable to know if the correct item is in the pick location, there is a likelihood of mispick and errors in item count accuracy.
Pick-to-Color: With Pick-to-Color technology, workers match the color on their screens with the color on the inventory container. The inVia PickMate productivity tool also displays the item to be picked and its quantity. It allows workers to scan the units and not just increase or decrease quantities as with Pick-to-Light systems. Further, it allows for multiple workers to work simultaneously without the need for multiple color lights. PickMate enables easy navigation to the next pick location, increasing pick accuracy to near-perfect levels.
— Ease of Learning
Pick-to-Light: Training takes just 30-45 minutes to get a worker up to speed. This means you can quickly see the benefits of your solution soon after implementation.
Pick-to-Color: Similarly, inVia PickMate requires minimal training (less than 30 minutes), so workers quickly grasp assigned tasks and are productive immediately, which helps enhance warehouse operations.
Pick-to-Light: There are key distinctions between the wired and wireless versions of pick-to-light technology. The wired units require power sources at regular intervals on the warehouse floor, along with battery packs on the rack. Warehouse operators and 3PLs select which inventory they wish to light up. Installation can often run two to four months. The greatest shortcoming of wired pick-to-light systems is that it is a fixed solution that is hard to change once installed. Wireless systems use Bluetooth technology and connect to either the facility’s LAN-based server or the cloud for sending and receiving light-based signals. Installation takes just days instead of several months for wired systems.
Pick to Color: Installation simply requires labeling your slots in the warehouse. It is a highly flexible system which can be easily adapted to your changing warehouse needs and readily transported to other facilities.
Pick-to-Light: Wired pick-to-light systems are much more expensive – each light device is around $150. This Pick-to-light technology tends to be used only in one subset of the warehouse, due to their cost. In addition, there are proprietary software licensing fees and out-of-the-box costs that don’t include the downtime for installation or the cost to wire a warehouse.
Pick to Color does not require any infrastructure changes. The cost is limited to the cost of the label. inVia PickMate software is hardware-agnostic and can be used on any mobile device.
With order picking consuming such a sizable share of warehouse costs, it’s important for warehouse owners to choose the right picking technologies that meet their need, boost worker productivity and ultimately satisfy customers. Pick-to-Light and Pick-to-Color order picking technologies can help warehouses be more accurate and productive in their operations. The two systems, however, offer some key differences across a range of considerations that need to be readily understood and evaluated to determine which option is most ideal for their specific needs. For those looking for more comprehensive capabilities, pick-to-color technology is likely the best way to go.