Pick Pack Barcode Verification Workflow Options
Barcodes are often used to verify items during the pick pack process to ensure each line item is picked and shipped accurately. Due to the high costs of mis-ships this quality control step is one that more and more fulfillment operations are adding to their process. We’ll begin by looking at a number of workflow options for implementing scanning in a fulfillment process. If your items are not already barcoded one of your first considerations will be whether to barcode individual items or to barcode the bins from which the items will be picked.
Setting up your barcode scanning Workflow
Initially you’ll want to determine when in your workflow the verification should occur. This will impact the rest of the scanning process. The two main options are Scanning During the Pick or Scanning During Packing. Scanning can be done during both pick and pack, but if either of these are properly implemented, accuracy should be so high that the time required to add a second scanning step is not warranted.
Scanning during the pick
Scanning orders during the pick is favored when orders include a range of many different SKUs in a large catalog of products. It also lends itself well to warehouses that can be traversed quickly since there tends to be more backtracking while picking order by order. Since items are not brought back to a packing station for scanning, a mobile device is required to verify items as they are picked. Scanning at the pick is the only option in instances where individual items can not be barcoded. In this case bins must be barcoded and scanned instead. More on that below.
When scanning during the pick the highest assurance of accuracy is achieved by scanning items and placing them directly into the box or envelope in which they will be shipped. Ideally, the parcel will be sealed and labeled just after packing is completed. This prevents items from falling out of, or accidentally getting added to, scanned orders. This requires shipping labels to be printed in batches prior to picking and scanning. If shipping labels will be printed afterward there are two options. The parcels can be left unsealed with the packing slip accessible. The packed and verified parcels can be dropped off at a shipping station where the packing slip is scanned to find the order and create the shipping label. Another option is to set up a mobile printing solution where labels are printed on the pick cart.
A pick cart is often used in this workflow. The cart can be loaded with packing materials and can include a bin where shipments stored. It's often possible to scan and pack many orders before returning to drop-off completed parcels and replenish envelopes etc. If it is impractical to have a cart large enough to carry the packing materials, the cart can include a collection of bins or totes. Each tote or each section of each tote will receive items for a specific order and the packing slip for that order. The contents of the totes can then be transferred to the final shipping parcels when the shipping label is created at a shipping station.
Mobile scanning can be done in a variety of ways. The most streamlined option is an all-in-one that includes an android device and a premium scanner. A mobile version of GroovePacker runs on the device itself and no additional hardware is needed.
If you already have a mobile device that can run the GroovePacker app, another option is to pair a Bluetooth scanner to the device. This can be a separate scanner, or for ease of handling, you can use a case with a scanner or a small scanner that can be attached to a normal case. This option tends to be less expensive than the all-in-one but the quality of the scanner tends to be noticeably lower. Better scanners are far more forgiving with sub-par barcodes and tend to have lower latency.
In some cases, a Chromebook or tablet is attached to the pick cart and the picker uses a wireless scanner paired with the device.
You can find examples of these devices that have been tested with GroovePacker on our Quick Start page here.
Scanning during packing
Scanning orders as they are packed can be done in several different ways. Here are the most popular variations.
Scanning during packing - Variation 1
For small items (beads, screen protectors, etc. ) and a low number of total skus, the majority of items may be at arm's length. Here the line between scanning at the pick, and scanning at the pack is tough to distinguish because you can pick everything you need within a step or two of the packing station. This is often the case when shipping from a garage or spare room in the early stages of a business.
Scanning during packing - Variation 2
Another popular variation is to pick orders one by one according to the packing slip. Rather than returning to the packing station after each pick, multiple orders are picked back to back into a tote. Orders in the tote remain separated.This works especially well for apparel or flat items where products and their packing slips can be stacked on each other and remain in order. Totes or carts with dividers are also a good option to keep order items separate. After several orders are picked to a tote it can be taken to a packing station where each order in the tote is scanned and packed.
Scanning during packing - Variation 3
A third variation of scanning during packing involves using a consolidated pick list to gather all of the items needed to pack a batch of orders. The optimal batch size can vary greatly based on the size of the items, the size of the warehouse and the number of items in an average order. Pick lists tend to offer the greatest efficiency when order batches contain a limited number of unique SKUs. When items are spread across a large warehouse a consolidated pick list, sorted by location, allows pickers to move linearly through the warehouse eliminating back-tracking.
As the batch size increases the time spent picking each order decreases. Unfortunately, large batches also result in more items for the packer to contend with when they begin selecting items during packing. At some point it feels like there are two pick processes, one from the shelf to the pick cart and another from the pick cart to the packing station. Limiting the number of orders picked in each batch will limit the number of items and help greatly. Another solution is to divide the pick cart into sections that correspond to sections in the warehouse. The verification software can display the bin location of each item as it is suggested for scanning which will let the packer know where it can be found on the cart. This speeds up the packing process because the packer can locate items faster. Single item orders with popular items can also be picked and scanned in separate batches. These orders can generally be completed very quickly. Focus can then be given to the more complicated orders once the single items are all out of the way.
Here are some pros and cons of scanning during picking and scanning during packing.
Scanning during picking
- When the pick is scanned it should always be correct so no time spent on re-picking
- Items do not need to be barcoded individually as product bins can be scanned, however, care must be taken to ensure stocking is always done accurately to avoid errors.
- Close attention must be paid to the orders after picking to ensure that nothing is added or removed from the order. If the shipping label has already been created prior to picking the box or envelope can be sealed after items are verified and placed inside.
- Backtracking decreases efficiency when multi-item orders are spread across a large area..
- Wifi needs to be available in the picking locations.
- Requires mobile devices and scanners that must be charged.
- Requires either a mobile printer or a separate shipping process (unless labels are printed in bulk prior to picking)
Scanning during packing
- Items can be picked in a linear fashion through the warehouse. This tends to be more efficient especially in larger warehouses.
- Works well for large spaces (with consolidated picklist) and for small spaces where items are nearby.
- Both Hands-free desk mounted scanners and wireless handheld scanners can be used.
- Access to all packing materials at a packing station.
- Since orders are always verified just prior to sealing the shipment there is no opportunity for items to be added or removed after verification.
- When orders have multiple items and are drawn from a large number of SKUs the packer must select items from a large group which can take time. Orders can be picked in smaller batches to alleviate the issue but this will increase the pick time per order.
- Items must be Individually barcoded.
- Errors made during picking will require re-picking.
Scanning Individual items VS Scanning Bins for Pick Pack QC
If it is not feasible to barcode each item, you have little choice but to scan each bin (or item location) during the picking process. Barcoding each bin, rather than each item, tends to be very attractive if you are putting a new barcode system in place and have 10’s of thousands of un-barcoded items. This certainly saves time upfront but it comes at a cost. One major drawback to this approach is that dropped items placed back in the wrong bin will be verified incorrectly 100% of the time. Another is that you are essentially committing to an additional scanning step during restocking. Any time stock is placed in bins, scanning should be used to verify the restock. If items are not scanned when they are placed in the bins, accuracy can not be assured when you scan them on removal.
The two biggest reasons for not barcoding individual items are large inventories that take time to barcode and items that are too small for a barcode sticker. One option for large inventories is to begin by individually barcoding the highest volume items and items responsible for the majority of the errors. Initially these items can be barcoded and scanned individually while other items are scanned by bin. Over time, the rest of the inventory can be individually barcoded by your team or packaging can be changed in future runs to include a barcode. Items too small for standard-sized, 1D barcodes can sometimes be addressed by using smaller 2D barcodes. A 2D barcode the size of a fingernail is sufficient in many cases. If that is not practical either, another option is to polybag the items individually and adhere the barcode to the bag. This can sometimes be done during your receiving process. In some cases, manufacturers can provide this service at a very low cost.
Ultimately, if you have the option of barcoding individual items it is likely to server you better in the long term. It will allow your pick pack process to be much closer to a fool-proof system.
Hopefully the information above will allow you to put together a packing verification system that will be well suited to your fulfillment operation. If you have any questions about how GroovePacker will accommodate any of these options or would like to get set up a one on one call with a representative that can discuss your requirements in detail please let us know. The green "Get Support" tab on the right edge of the site will allow you to contact us directly.