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Determining the number of zones in a pick-and-sort order picking system
In this study we consider a pick-and-sort order picking system, in which batches of orders are picked simultaneously from different (work) zones by a group of order pickers. After picking, the orders are transported by a conveyor to a next station for consolidation and packing. Packing can only occur when an order has been picked completely. For a given number of workers, each assigned to a single zone, a larger number of zones reduces pick time (since travel time reduces), but increases waiting time for completion at the packing stations, because more partial batches needing assembly arrive at the packing stations. Our aim is to determine the optimal number of zones such that the total (picking and packing) time to complete a batch is minimised. We solve this problem by optimally assigning items to pick routes in each zone. We illustrate the method with data taken from a distribution centre of one of the largest online retailers in The Netherlands.