order picking and packing bottleneckA “bottleneck” is a situation where the flow of your order fulfillment process slows down and orders build up faster than they can be processed, resulting in inefficient activity. Order picking and packing bottlenecks are one of the most common types of this phenomenon in product fulfillment, and reducing packaging bottlenecks is a big part of improving fulfillment performance and efficiency.

7 Tips to Avoid Packing Bottlenecks

1. Make Sure Orders Are Fully Picked

Packing bottlenecks can be avoided by making sure your packers are able to focus only on packing. This means that any order they receive has to be fully picked and complete so they don’t waste time trying to fill in blanks or otherwise finish an incomplete picking job. Creating an “exception cart” where incomplete or problem orders can be placed and addressed, rather than letting such orders slow down the packers, is one way a packing bottleneck can be accomplished. Holding pickers to high accuracy standards is also important since doing so prevents packers from having to stop and make corrections.

2. Keep Your Packers Stocked

Various types of packing materials are used in the final stages of product preparation and anytime one runs out, bottlenecks can form as workers scramble to get restocked. Develop a system where levels of packing supplies are regularly monitored and low levels are topped up to prevent packers from running out and pausing.

3. Arrange Products by Number

This tip is based on keeping bottlenecks from developing on the picking side rather than the packing part of the equation. Arranging your products by number rather than category or name makes tracking them down for picking faster since anyone can see a number and immediately understand where it falls in a sequence.

4. Use Shelves

Shelves or flow racks allow products to be filled from behind and let picking continue as the products move along. If the shelves are arranged in a horseshoe shape, with the packing station at the top, the process can be sped up even further since the packers will be at both the beginning and the end of the line. This can dramatically cut down on travel times and moving from one end of the line to the next.

5. Give Your Packers Their Space

Although minimizing travel time is important, there is such a thing as putting packers too close together. If workers are regularly bumping into each other, fighting over station space, or if packaging materials are starting to create serious clutter, it may be time to make some changes. Expanding the space available for the packing station can help keep things organized and clear, prevent workers from accidentally interfering with each other, and otherwise avoid packing bottlenecks.

6. Count the Steps

An order picking and packing bottleneck can sometimes emerge not from a singular problem but from a lot of little delays that add up. Calculate the number of steps taken by your packers as well as how often they need to reach, strain, or bend during their duties. Pedometers can help with tracking movements over the course of a day and they can also assess the effects of any improvements you try to make. The fewer steps your packers take, the better.

7. Divide Picked Orders

Packing is at its most efficient when packers are able to focus on a single type of task. Bottlenecks can quickly develop if your packers are forced to suddenly break momentum and deal with a shift in packing procedures, like when a station that deals mostly with small, single products has to handle periodic oversized orders. Splitting packers into specialized groups for single, multi, oversized, and other order types helps maintain focus and efficiency. Creating a separate section for gift wrapping during holiday periods can also help for the same reason.

Look to APS for Bottleneck-Free Fulfillment Services

APS Fulfillment Inc. is a leading order fulfillment service company that operates out of Miami, Florida. Our integrative approach tackles supply chain management, real-time inventory management, warehousing services, shipping, and everything else needed to ensure your goods get to their destination. We’ve stored, sorted, delivered, and quality-assured products of all shapes and sizes for all kinds of companies across a wide variety of industries. Contact us by phone at 954-582-7450 or by e-mail at info@apsfulfillment.com for more ways third-party logistics services can support and grow your business.