Order Fulfillment


  • A-frames are automated piece picking machines that dispense small, individual items to a collection system running underneath the frame.

  • Pick-to-light systems utilize illuminated LED lights guide an operator to the correct product location and a digital display to indicate the required quantity.

The process of filling an order for a customer relies on many types of material handling equipment working together as parts of a complete integrated material handling system. All of these technologies work together to move, store, stage, protect and control the materials, and associated information about those materials, to fill orders. Included are:

For high-volume, fast-throughput item order picking a variety of techniques and technologies—both for manual and automated picking—are available. These types of picking systems work best for the relatively small number of (approximately 20%) that account for a high percentage of daily order volume (approximately 80%). Their use is ideal in applications where these faster moving items are grouped together. They eliminate paper pick lists, reduce walk time and labor costs, and boost accuracy. Typical applications include devices that direct pickers to the location to select or place items and the quantities required, or automatically dispense those items into specific containers.

There are three primary types of item order fulfillment systems. These include:

  • Pick-to-light: Also called pick-by-light or light-directed picking, this system includes a series of light devices mounted at item locations. To initialize the process, the operator scans a barcode associated with an order. Illuminated LED lights guide an operator to the correct product location and a digital display indicates the quantity required to fill the order. When all the items are picked, the operator pushes a button on the device to confirm the task is complete.
  • Put-to-light: Also called scan-and-sort, this system is used to break up larger quantities of stored product that are delivered to the operator into individual customer orders. Light devices (similar to pick-to-light) at a station indicate the tote or bin into which the discrete quantities of each item should be placed. The operator scans a barcode on an item, and then the lights turn on for any customer orders requiring that product. Two other variations include:

    • Pack-to-light or put-to-store – This method is used to restock retail stores, where a percentage of full cases is broken down into smaller quantities. Racks hold one or two shelves or repack cartons. Conveyor in front of the racks moves merchandise past the put locations. When the case is scanned, lights turn on in front of totes bound for stores requiring that product.
    • Cart systems or mobile put-to-light - Put-to-light is often combined with mobile computers and other automatic ID systems and mounted to a wheeled cart that is pushed throughout warehouse. When an operator arrives with the cart at a picking zone, a barcode scan confirms the correct item location and lights on the cart indicate the correct tote or bin into which a certain quantity of that item should be placed.
  • A-frame: Self-contained, this automated piece picking machine processes a high volume of less than full case orders by dispensing small, individual items. A-frames can dispense multiple orders at one time at rates of 250 to 4,000 orders per hour. The system has four primary components:

    • Vertical storage channels positioned in an “A” shape that are manually or automatically loaded with products
    • Picking module that selects the quantity of a line of same items
    • Order collection method—either tote or conveyor belt—running through the center of the “A”
    • Software controls to direct the system

Item order fulfillment systems are used to improve the speed and accuracy of manual or high-volume item picking.

Item order fulfillment systems provide a variety of benefits:

  • Accuracy – Because picks are system-directed and require confirmation of completion (or are completely automated), accuracy improves to rates in excess of 99.9+%
  • Lower Costs – The systems reduce labor costs, errors, rework and chargebacks
  • Speed – The systems increase rates of individual item and whole order
  • Throughput – More orders can be processed by a single picker, or automation removes the human element completely
  • Training – Because the system directs workers to put or pick certain amounts, and to press a button to confirm that action, they are easy to learn and easy to use

Item order fulfillment systems are used as a picking solution in facilities in nearly every industry, including:

  • Automotive
  • Computers
  • Consumer goods
  • Cosmetics
  • E-Commerce
  • Electronics
  • Grocery
  • Jewelry
  • Hardware
  • Liquor distribution
  • Manufacturing
  • Medical products
  • Pharmaceutical
  • Retail
  • Warehousing and distribution

Read more about how item order fulfillment systems are used in different industries and applications.