pick to light

What is pick to light?

Pick to light is order fulfillment technology that employs alphanumeric displays and buttons at storage locations to guide the manual picking and recording of items for shipment.

In a typical pick-to-light system, the operator scans a barcode attached to either a shipping carton or a tote, which is a reusable container for holding items temporarily. Alphanumeric displays -- typically, LEDs -- illuminate to guide the operator to the right storage location and indicate the number of items to be picked. The operator places the items in the container and confirms the activity, usually by pressing a button near the display. Displays continue to light up in the operator's work zone, directing them to the next picking location.

There might be other buttons that allow the operator to record variations in pick size and other basic data. Some displays might also indicate order numbers, the next zone to which to pass the order and special instructions for operators.

By changing the direction of flow, the system can become a put-to-light system and allow reverse picking, in which incoming goods are put in locations grouped by customer order or retail store.

Pick-to-light setup

Organizing the process by individual operators' work zones helps to minimize unnecessary walking in the warehouse. However, orders can pass through more than one zone, with operators working in assembly line fashion to complete each order. The sequence is often structured to minimize idle time.

The pick-to-light display modules are typically networked over a wired bus that supplies data and electrical power, though some modules are wireless. They receive power and data independently, which reduces the likelihood of systemwide failure.

Some pick-to-light systems can be mounted on mobile carts, which allow operators to fulfill multiple orders in a single walk through the warehouse. The systems can also be used with automated material-handling and conveyor systems.

Pick-to-light integration

Pick-to-light systems come with specialized software that can integrate with enterprise resource planning, supply chain management and warehouse management system software. Advanced pick-to-light software adds the ability to vary the size of work zones to better match labor with order volume or produce reports on pick rates, productivity and other useful metrics.

Benefits of pick-to-light systems include improved productivity and accuracy, lower labor costs, and more efficient record-keeping.

Much of the efficiency comes from minimizing the time operators spend on walking to locations and reading paper-based records. The method, which is also known as light-directed picking, tends to work best in warehouses with a relatively small number of high-volume products.

This was last updated in September 2023

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