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Warehouse Picking Time Standards

How Long SHOULD it take to pick an order?

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Knowing the amount of time it takes to pick an order is essential when designing a warehouse or Distribution Center (DC). When operating a warehouse or DC, it is useful for staff planning, employee performance evaluation, scheduling and general benchmarking.

In warehousing, time standards are often difficult to develop for reasons discussed below. In the following pages we show tables for estimating pick times under various situations. These tables are overall averages based on a typical warehouse situation and operation. They are suitable for some purposes and unsuitable for others. Their primary advantage is ready availability and ease of use.

The Uses of Time Standards

Time standards have many uses. The accuracy and sources of those standards will affect their appropriate use. For example, overall average times for picking are not appropriate for measuring individual picker performance on a daily basis. Or, detailed time study may be unnecessary for initial warehouse design.

Warehouse Design

When the overall design and layout of a warehouse requires some reasonable estimate of picking volume and pick times to estimate the number of people required. This, in turn, affects aisles, restroom locations and other aspects of the design.

Equipment Selection

Equipment selection depends on many factors and the time required for picking is one of the more important. Equipment selection then affects staff planning and operating cost estimates. 

Estimating Operating Cost

Operating cost estimates are usually part of the initial design of a warehouse or part of an equipment selection process.

Staff Planning

Staff planning is usually an issue in the initial design but a high level of accuracy or detail is unnecessary. Staff planning may also be the sort of short-range planning that merges with scheduling. For example, "will we need to work overtime on Saturday?"

Employee Performance Evaluation

Overall average pick times may not be suitable for evaluating employees, especially on a daily or weekly basis. This is because of the large variation in pick lists.

Daily/Weekly Performance Evaluation

This sort of management review is quite common. Normally, it compares recent performance to past time periods. It shows improvement or degradation but does not establish an external, independent benchmark.

Benchmarking

Benchmarking compares warehouse performance to outside standards, rather than just comparing to previous performance.

Scheduling

Scheduling ensures that orders will be picked and filled in a timely manner and people and equipment will be available. Most warehouse operations do little formal scheduling. Highly accurate standards are not usually necessary.

Sources of Time Standards

There are several ways to establish time standards for equipment and people. Among these are:

  • Historical Data

  • Stopwatch or Video Observation

  • Predetermined Time Systems

Historical Data

Historical data is normally easy to find or develop. If one knows the number of orders or line items picked or shipped in a given week and the number of pickers or picking hours, the efficiency for that week is easily calculated. The result may be useful for evaluating performance in subsequent weeks or in design modifications.

Stopwatch/Video Observation

Real-time stopwatch observations are the traditional way of setting time standards. Video studies are the modernized version. Both have limited application in warehousing because of the wide variation in pick lists and the resulting travel times. They are sometimes useful to establish specific elements such as the actual pick operation for a class of items once the operator has arrived at a pick face. These elements can than be placed in formulae to set a standard for a specific pick list.

Pre-determined Time Systems

These systems use historical data for each movement or micro-element of a motion. These small elements are then built up into larger elements and, eventually, into a standard for a complete pick list. MTM is an example of a pre-determined time system.

Warehouse Management Systems (WMS)

The more sophisticated Warehouse Management Systems generate a standard time for each pick list. The use location codes and elemental times, mostly from pre-determined time systems. These types of system are excellent for daily management and employee evaluation. They do require considerable input data for the location information.

NS 529 Standards

The following pages offer picking standards for several types of storage and warehouse situations. They are taken from the Warehouse Modernization & Planning Guide (NS 529) published by the U.S. Navy. They are available as a free download in xls format.

There are many factors that make up a truly accurate standard. For our purposes here, a more or less typical warehouse is assumed. These pick times are adequate for design, planning and overall benchmarking. They are not accurate enough for evaluating individual performance and, particularly, they do not apply to a specific pick list.

The three major categories of storage are Pallets, Rackables and Binnables as shown below. The time values are then further subdivided by transport method and, in some cases, shown for different sizes of warehouse or storage module.

Pallets
Pallets

This category is for items that are putaway, stored and picked as complete pallet loads. Examples are: cement bags, palletized cases or any item that is received, picked and shipped in pallet-size quantity.

Rackables
Rackables

Rackable items are putaway on pallets and stored on pallet racks. Picking is usually in less-than-pallet quantities and picked directly from the pallets. Examples are: Case-Picked items, small appliances, machine components, automotive replacement alternators.


Binnables
Binnables

These items are relatively small. They are put away and stored in bins or totes and often picked in quantities less then the bin or tote. Examples are: memory chips, hand tools, bagged items and hardware.

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