Improve Order Fulfillment

Primary Objective:

Pick and pack an order, using the least amount of worker time, motion, material and space.


In today’s hi-tech world and considering the complexities of designing an order fulfillment system, the packing area is often treated more as an afterthought. Realistically however, the Packer is a key member of the order fulfillment team. Consider this:

  1. The Packer is the last employee to touch your product before it gets to the customer.
  2. The Packer is the last person who can catch simple errors such as:
    • a. Incorrect counts
    • b. Wrong SKU
    • c. Incomplete order
    • d. Wrong color, size
    • e. Product damage
  3. 3. If the product is not protected and packaged correctly, it most likely get lost or damaged in shipment.

The Bottom Line

If the shipment is not prompt, complete, accurate and in perfect condition, the customer will return it, request a credit, or expect a replacement. The company also looses goodwill.

The extra cost involved to fix these problems reduces the margin made on the order. It defeats all the upstream effort to produce a good product and make a fair profit.

Understanding a Pick/Pack Order Fulfillment System

Maximizing efficiency and productivity in the packing area requires a look at the entire order fulfillment process from the point of view of how each task can affect the packing function.

All the functions from order picking to shipping need to be integrated into a smooth flowing system. The volume and size of the orders usually effect how and where each function will be completed. Slowdowns and errors tend to become more frequent as workers take on multiple tasks

From a packing perspective, the order fulfillment process can be outlined simply as follows. The exact sequence and responsibility for each function varies with each application.

  • Pick Orders
  • Consolidate Orders
  • Check Orders
  • Transport Consolidated Orders to Packing Area
  • Pack Orders
  • Label Orders
  • Manifest Orders
  • Transport Orders to Shipping Dock

In very small applications the packer may be responsible for all the steps. In larger systems a picker will usually pick, check and consolidate the orders. As the volume and size of the order gets larger, the problems of checking, consolidating and re-checking get increasingly complicated.

If there is insufficient manpower to break the functions into separate tasks, the work usually falls into the packer’s job description.


Order fulfillment begins with order picking. Pickers receive a picking ticket and select the merchandise from finished goods. Items are either bulk packed or they are individual units put into some type of container. In small applications this may be only a few SKU’s. As the applications get bigger the order may consist of several bulk packs and more than a single container of individual items.

From the packer’s perspective, it is important to know how the order will be presented to the workstation. What type of containers will be used? How much will they weigh? Will the order always be complete? If not, how and where will the partial order be staged and processed?


At some point in the flow the picked items have to be consolidated into a complete order. Normally, pickers pick broken case items into some form of container, box or tote. Larger pre-boxed items are picked and placed on carts, skids, conveyors or other handling systems.

It is important for packing to know if the consolidation will take place before the order reaches the packing area. Who, where and when will the consolidation take place? How will the consolidated order be presented to the packer? How much space will be required to stage the order at the packing table? Will the packer be responsible for any part of the consolidation?

Order Checking

Checking the order for errors is one of the most important tasks. Electronic systems are available that make this process very accurate. However, they are expensive and sometimes unaffordable. The task becomes a manually job. The costs to return or replace incorrectly shipped merchandise are staggering! In many systems there are several checkpoints in the process. The packer is frequently the final one.

The packer should know how many times the order was checked. Who and where is the order checked? If it is consolidated with larger bulk SKU’s, has the order been rechecked? What are the packer’s responsibilities for checking? Will the packer have to do a final check to the packing list?

Order Transportation and Staging

After the order is consolidated, it has to be transported and staged at the packing station. Carts, skids, conveyors, carrousels and automatic sorting systems are normally used for this function. It is important that orders with more than one container be staged so they are easy to access when they arrive at the packing area.

The transportation and staging of consolidated orders is the real beginning of the packing function. Orders should always be taken to the packer. It is never efficient to have the packer walk away from his workstation to get an order. Lifting and carrying totes and boxes are ergonomic and safety issues. The efficient packer will only handle the items in the order one time.

Here are some of the questions to be asked. Are all individual small items in one or more containers? Does the transportation system bring the consolidated order to the pack station? Is the consolidated order staged in a way that the packer does not have to hunt for items? Will the packer have to check to make sure the order is complete? If the order is not complete is there room to stage the partial order until the missing Item(s) are received?



Packing the Order

The packing function is a multi-functional job. The worker typically erects a box and places the individual items and any other specified materials into the carton. The void areas are filled with packing material. The carton is closed and sealed. The box is labeled and addressed.

The process gets much more complicated if the functions of consolidating and checking become a part of the packing function. They significantly change the flow patterns of the packing operation.

What other functions will be included in the packing operation? How do you equip and layout the workstation? How does it interface with the material handling system? How will you store the supplies? What is the best flow pattern? What happens to the carton after it is packed?

Staging and Transportation

After the order is packed, the carton is either staged or sent on to shipping. Staged orders are typically put on skids or carts. Orders moved to shipping are placed on conveyors. Whichever process is used, the worker should be able to slide the carton off the table onto the method of staging or moving. Packed cartons can be heavy. To avoid back, neck and arm injuries, the worker should not have to lift and carry the carton to the staging point.

From the packing point of view ask these questions. What happens to the carton after it is packed? What kind of staging or moving system will be used? How will the staging or moving system fit into the company material handling flow? How can lifting and carrying be avoided?


Before the order can be shipped it has to be manifested. A record of the shipment has to be produced. The way the shipment is recorded depends on the mode of transportation. Truck shipments usually need a bill of lading. UPS, FED-X, USPS and AIR shipments have their own unique manifesting procedures. Manifesting is normally a function of the shipping department, but many times the function will be assigned to the packer.

If the packer is going to manifest, consider these questions. What is the scope of the manifest process? How much equipment is required? Where will the manifest system be placed on the packing bench? Will more than one system be required? If there is more than one packing table, is it better to consolidate the manifest process?


The seven functions discussed can all affect packing operations. Every application has its own unique characteristics. The job description of the packer will vary according to many circumstances such as automation, manpower, size of operations and numerous other factors.

To maximize efficiency and productivity all of the functions have to work correctly with little or no duplication of effort.

In most operations these functions are usually well thought out. However with close examination and ingenuity, additional savings can be found. Individually the savings may seem small, but collectively they can add up to significant numbers.

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