The goods-to-person order picking method combines automated systems with ergonomic pick stations

Goods-to-person: bringing products to operators

25 June 2021

The goods-to-person picking method (also known as product-to-person) arose from the need to boost efficiency in order preparation operations.

In this post, we examine the concept of goods-to-person picking, the conditions for implementing it in a warehouse, and its main advantages as compared to the person-to-goods (or person-to-product) technique.

Goods-to-person picking

The term goods-to-person (GTP) is an order prep strategy in which the products are delivered directly to the operator by means of automated systems. With this method, operators receive the items required to prepare an order at their pick stations, without the need to move from their post.

As opposed to the person-to-goods (PTG) strategy ― typical in conventional warehouses ― with goods-to-person picking, the merchandise is stored in a miniload system (AS/RS for boxes) equipped with a stacker crane or Shuttle System and roller conveyors for boxes. These are normally paired with pick stations, where the operator receives the boxes and removes the required units of each product. The system then automatically returns the boxes to the rack.

The warehouse management system (WMS) is charged with coordinating the entire operation: the WMS syncs the movements of the various automated systems with the intervention of the warehouse control system (WCS). Operators also have a computer at their pick stations, where the software provides them with a detailed list of instructions to follow.

Goods-to-person picking reduces operator movements in the warehouse, which significantly lowers the possibility of errors and accidents. With these solutions, operators don’t have to travel; they merely pick the units indicated from the box or container they receive at their post. By bringing the product to the operator, this picking strategy shortens times and increases efficiency in the facility.

The warehouse management system guides operators during order preparation
The warehouse management system guides operators during order preparation

Picking from pallets with goods-to-person

Although goods-to-person is usually associated with the picking of small units (stored in boxes or on trays), it can also be applied when picking from pallets.

Goods-to-person picking from pallets consists of the implementation of automated systems such as stacker cranes for pallets and pallet conveyor systems, which streamline the placement and retrieval of pallets on and from the racks. Operators receive the pallet at a pick station adapted to this type of unit load. As per instructions from the WMS, the operator removes a specific number of boxes from the pallet received and places them on another pallet nearby (where he/she is preparing the order). Then, the conveyor returns the initial pallet to the rack or, if so determined by the WMS, moves it to another point where the goods are reconsolidated to better leverage the space.

That’s precisely the logistics solution the Mecalux Group deployed for Havi’s new automated warehouse in Vila Nova da Rainha, Portugal. The facility is outfitted with pick stations where operators receive the goods directly from the conveyors or from transfer cars, in the case of products that were first handled by the anthropomorphic robot. At each pick station, the operators — aided by put-to-light devices — can prepare up to eight orders at once, ergonomically and without having to travel.

Goods-to-person (GTP) vs. person-to-goods (PTG)

The implementation of automated systems in order picking responds to needs such as speeding up the volume of orders dispatched, carrying out picking in more ergonomic conditions, or reducing errors stemming from manual product management. The comparison chart below highlights the differences between both methods.

  Goods-to-person (GTP) Person-to-goods (PTG)
Operator movements Minimal, since operators remain at their pick stations while the WMS organizes their tasks. Operators have to follow picking routes around the warehouse to pick the products assigned to the order.
Productivity Highly efficient system that makes it possible to reach 1,000 picks per hour. The efficiency of manual order prep depends on the deployment of a WMS that establishes optimal routes.
Unit loads The system requires standardization of the unit load to a certain extent. Any flaws could damage the automatic equipment. This method doesn’t require a standardized unit load and can operate with irregular surfaces.
Operating costs Automating warehouse operations represents an investment. However, the ROI could very likely be quick due to the elimination of errors and higher number of orders dispatched. The costs can vary depending on the volume of orders at each time of year. Nevertheless, mistakes due to manual picking account for serious cost overruns for companies.

Generally, for moderate order volumes and a wide variety of SKUs, manual or semiautomated picking (with a WMS) is a valid option. That said, the goods-to-person strategy is especially recommended for companies with high order numbers, fairly uniform products, and a low error rate. In these cases, the investment in automated picking systems is offset quickly because of the increased efficiency in order prep.

High-performance pick stations enable operators to reach over 1,000 picks an hour
High-performance pick stations enable operators to reach over 1,000 picks an hour

Automated picking success stories

The Mecalux Group has implemented goods-to-person picking solutions in multiple countries. These are three of the most noteworthy projects:

  • Grégoire Besson (France): this French farm technology equipment company relied on the Mecalux Group to design and install its most recent AS/RS (automated storage and retrieval system). The facility combines pallet racking and an AS/RS for boxes with stacker cranes and conveyors. With this storage system, small products are transported directly to the pick stations, where operators prepare orders following precise instructions from the WMS.
  • Kern Pharma (Spain): pharmaceutical laboratory Kern Pharma decided to store both pallets and boxes in its new warehouse in Terrassa (Barcelona). In the storage area for boxes, the company installed 66' tall single-deep racking with 36 levels. There, a set of twin-mast stacker cranes expedite the goods extraction and storage processes.
  • Paolo Astori (Italy): this aeronautics parts manufacturer set up a warehouse next to its production center to accelerate supply of raw materials. The facility has an AS/RS for boxes composed of an aisle with two double-deep racks on both sides. A miniload stacker crane deposits the goods on a conveyor, which brings them directly to the pick station.

Automated picking: efficiency and productivity

Reducing the economic impact of picking on warehouse operating costs is crucial for competitive logistics. Traveling up and down aisles takes up 70% of operators’ time. In doing away with those movements, all the company’s warehouse operations will be more efficient, particularly order prep.

To find out more about our goods-to-person picking solutions, don’t hesitate to contact us. One of our expert consultants will assess your current logistics processes and advise you on how to automate picking and boost productivity in your facility.