Requirements of a Modern Pick to Light System
Nikhil Girish

The e-commerce model has forced significant changes on the traditional brick and mortar business model making the transition to omni-channel distribution. This transition brings up its own set of benefits as well as challenges. The challenges include:
Fluctuations in order volume: The order rate can vary based on the time of day, the day of the month, seasons, events and so on. The distribution channel must be capable of allowing flexibility to meet demand.Increasing number of SKUs to manage: The one shop for all products model and large scale promotions increase the volume of SKUs needed on shelves.
Service level agreements: Managing high customer expectations is a complexity generated by this model. Reducing delivery times, reducing costs incurred in shipping and facilitating in-store fulfillment are steps necessary to reach customer fulfillment levels expected by the target customer.
Traditional retail fulfillment: Traditional stores require consistent replenishment and appropriately high volumes of sizes, colors and styles need to be stocked on shelves.
The high variances in demand generated by the market need to be assimilated by the distribution system efficiently. This involves improving time efficiencies in the material handling and distribution network. These requirements are not sustainable by a traditional pick to light system. A modern pick to light system requires the ability to customize it to suit the type of business, it needs to cross barriers of language and culture and deliver instructions with clarity, it needs to be able to adjust and improve its algorithm to save time and thus cost in a market where delays can run up costs exponentially. A modern pick-to-light system is integrated with the warehouse management systems (WMS) and ERP systems and uses high computing power to constantly solve optimization problems to determine which employee handles what package taking it where and carrying what quantity. These are in addition to the traditional requirements of a pick to light system that demands a simple process that saves training costs and minimizes skill requirements.

Considering the Amazon example of a successful pick-to-light system implemented by Amazon’s warehouses all over the world, the system provides each warehouse associate with a hand-held device used to scan a barcode to pick up an order from racks or bins. The display constantly shows the location number with a light guided system to direct the associate step by step through the warehouse. The appropriate rack then has a light indicator and the screen shows the quantity number that the associate needs to pick up and move. The system of lights and numbers ensures that the instructions transcends the language barrier. Companies are also experimenting with voice guided systems that are made available in multiple languages. The light guided system offers essential feedback for the associate at the warehouse in real-time.

In order to optimize supply chain efficiencies, modern pick-to-light systems need to offer much more than traditional pick-to-light systems. This also brings up the question of who actually needs such a modern pick-to-light technology. These resources are essentially capital intensive and the question further inquires whether the user actually able to leverage their supply chain efficiencies to the extent to witness gains from this modern system.

References:
The Viability of Modern Pick-to-Light Systems, Honeywell Intelligrated. https://www.thebalancesmb.com/pick-to-light-warehouse-systems-2221456
https://www.logisticsmgmt.com/article/warehouse_and_dc_order_fulfillment_locke_supplys_path_to_accurate_productiv