Pick-to-light systems have become increasingly popular in recent years with a market value that is expected to reach $538.2 Million by 2023. This growth comes as manufacturers look to drive improvements in efficiency across their operations.

In many environments, manufacturers will arrange their shop floors with various assembly stations to tackle different stages of the production process. At these stations, components and materials are brought together, creating the end product that is ultimately distributed to the consumer.

Oftentimes, manual assemblies require personnel to retrieve the necessary items or product kits from the warehouse and send them to the next station or shipping area. However, the prevailing manual systems are inefficient and can create a significant amount of waste resulting in a decrease in productivity and efficiency.

Therefore, savvy manufacturing businesses have turned to more modern methods of kitting, sequencing, and picking parts for assembly on the production line. Pick-to-light systems are a much quicker and more efficient method of handling production, benefiting lean manufacturers with manual assemblies.

Read on to learn more about pick-to-light systems and why manufacturers are implementing these tools to improve production efficiency within their operations.

What is a pick-to-light system?

A pick-to-light system is an LED-based part picking and order fulfillment method that uses light cues to direct staff to the correct storage location. The system uses a combination of lights and digital displays to show workers where to find items needed for kitting, assembly, or order fulfillment.

Previous iterations of picking systems entailed using paper lists to identify the required items. This was particularly inefficient because workers had to walk around the warehouse, manually identifying components and other required items.

Pick-to-light systems do away with the more manual and inefficient parts of picking, reducing the rate of errors and improving inventory accuracy. In manufacturing, this methodology of error-proofing processes is known as poka-yoke.

How do pick-to-light systems work?

These systems use lights, alphanumeric digital displays, and buttons to help warehouse workers pick, sort, and cluster items required for assembly on the production line. Within warehouses, businesses will typically divide their facility into zones, assigning workers in each area to limit wasteful movement in search of items.

Here’s an example of what happens in a modern warehouse environment when using a pick-to-light system to pick components for an assembly kit order:

  1. An operator at a workstation downloads the kit info and specifics from the company’s system of record—typically a manufacturing execution system (MES) or enterprise resource planning (ERP) system.

  2. The operator uses a periphery device to scan a barcode on a box or tote container. This barcode corresponds to the different order items on the shelves.

  3. The system illuminates lights on the required SKUs' storage bin or shelf, leading the operator to that area. More modern systems turn on these lights in the most optimally efficient manner, eliminating wasted steps by the worker.

  4. The alphanumeric display shows the operator the required number of particular SKUs. The worker picks these up, puts them in the tote container or box, and switches off the light.

  5. The system then illuminates the next light, directing the employee to the next required item bin. The worker repeats the process until the kit order is fulfilled.

  6. The box containing the components is then sent to the station where it’s needed. In some systems, the employee needs to switch off another button that lights up when all the previous lights have been turned off. This final button tells the system that the order has been fulfilled and forwarded.

While pick-to-light systems are commonly found within a warehouse facility, directing operators to specific locations inside of a large facility, they can also be used at the assembly station themselves.

This is done by rigging a workstation’s bins with light strips that, in conjunction with digital work instructions, will light up to indicate which part is required for each stage of the assembly process.

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Benefits of pick-to-light systems for manufacturers

The pros associated with implementing pick-to-light systems in a manufacturing setting include:

Improved picking efficiency: Pick-to-light systems take the guesswork out of manual picking processes and do away with the need for operators to move around aimlessly searching for parts and components. Instead, operators directly head for the illuminated shelves or bins with the required items.

More convenience: These systems render paper-based order fulfillment lists useless. This old method required workers to leaf through lists and bills of materials to find the necessary components needed to fill the kit order.

The operator only has to scan the order’s unique barcode, and the system automatically pulls up a list of required items.

Easier operator training: Employees need to know the part types and numbers required to fulfill a kit order in a paper-based setting. As a result, employers commission more extended training sessions to ensure that the operators know what each kit should contain.

However, employees only need to know how to operate the comparatively easy pick-to-light system.

Increased productivity: The simplicity associated with this fulfillment strategy is physically kinder to operators, reducing fatigue and burnout because there aren’t extended trips around the warehouse.

As a result, workers are more productive because they use a simple and effective system to execute their tasks.

In addition, workers operate in zones, limiting the area they need to cover in search of items. Instead, they pass the container on to the operator in the next zone if it needs items from that section.

Better customer satisfaction: Using pick-to-light systems allows manufacturers to assemble work orders faster. As a result, customers can have their orders more quickly, reducing the frustration that comes with long wait times for products to be delivered.

Furthermore, this system is significantly more accurate than paper-based approaches. This reduces the possibility of quality defects and ensures that customers receive exactly what they requested.

Integration with MES and ERP: The order fulfillment system plugs into overarching production and warehouse management systems. This provides a host of pros, including efficient stock- and inventory management.

At the end of the day, manufacturers are invariably looking for the small changes that can have an outsized impact on productivity within their organization.

For businesses focused on discrete assembly, pick-to-light systems can result in significant improvements to production efficiency, reducing the cognitive load on operators and ensuring they pick the right part at the right time given the stage of production they’re focusing on.

When combined with a system like Tulip, pick-to-light is a complementary tool that leverages digital, interactive work instructions to seamlessly guide operators through their day-to-day tasks, eliminating human errors and reducing product defects from occurring.

If you’re interested in learning how Tulip can help you can improve productivity within your operations, reach out to a member of our team today!

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