Lighthouses are a simple technology that safely guide ship captains along coastlines and into harbors: A regular pulse of light signals the path that will bring sailors home.

Pick-to-light technology brings the concept from the ocean into the warehouse as a more efficient strategy for pulling orders than traditional paper picking methods. Lights installed below product bins direct warehouse or distribution center (DC) workers to the items they need to pull to fulfill an order—always directing them where they need to go next.

The latest incarnations of the technology, which has been around for about 30 years, improve picking accuracy to 99.9 percent and increase speed anywhere from 20 percent to 40 percent over traditional paper methods.

In today’s omni-channel environment, that kind of precision and efficiency is more important than ever as retailers respond to orders of varied sizes and product mixes delivered to a multitude of locations. Superior customer service is just as critical—fulfilling an order correctly the first time is vital to preserving one’s reputation.

Light-directed picking has become a go-to solution for thousands of busy modern warehouses—and with good reason. Here are three ways that pick-to-light technology is an invaluable part of an efficient distribution strategy. 

Scale Up without Increasing Labor Costs
Many companies function cyclically with a surge of business during the holidays or other highly predictable times of year before dipping back to the status quo. Orders might rise by 100 percent for a fleeting moment, but organizations don’t necessarily want to increase their workforce accordingly.

Pick-to-light technologies allow companies to grow their businesses, either temporarily or long-term, without increasing costs at the same rate. A one-time investment in a strategic solution increases efficiency by helping employees pick faster and allows warehouses to ramp up their output without bringing on significantly more people. 

A company might need to hire only 50 percent more seasonal employees, for example, compared to the 100 percent they might add in a typical year. That leads to an exponential savings, once wages, training and time new workers spend acclimating to the job are factored in.
The technology is just as effective across a wide range of industries, so a company can see the same benefits whether it’s a manufacturer ramping up to support summer construction season or a retailer gearing up for the holidays.

Improve Customer Service
Customer expectations continue to rise, making accurate order fulfillment more important than ever—even as distribution channels grow increasingly complex. Statistical improvements in accuracy help distribution centers to reduce quality assurance overtime and improve order fulfillment goals. Light-directed picking increases accuracy by 5 percent to 10 percent—a huge advantage when multiplied out over the thousands of orders a typical retailer fulfills each day.
The best pick-to-light suppliers have a less than one percent failure rate, so reliability and performance improvement assure that the system will be fully functioning even during peak-ordering periods.

It’s also helpful to partner with a provider that has a solid reputation for customer service. In the rare instances that one experiences technical difficulties, that provider proves its mettle with prompt support from a knowledgeable technician. 

Enable Goods-to-Person Picking
One of the latest warehouse trends is goods-to-person picking, which radically increases efficiency by allowing workers to stay in one place while the products come to them. 

In the past, when retailers shipped almost exclusively to brick-and-mortar stores, it didn’t matter so much if workers had to walk from bin to bin as they prepared orders. They could pick a lot of each product at a time because the DC shipped large batches to each store.

But with the rise of ecommerce, customers might order small quantities of several items. Traditional picking methods have proven to be inefficient. Workers spend 40 percent to 60 percent of their time walking from bin to bin when fulfilling customer orders, which doesn’t add any value to the process. 

A hybrid solution, involving lights and voice, streamlines picking by enabling a worker to pull multiple orders at a time. For example, the light will show the worker where to go while the voice says how many of those items must be picked. As a result, the worker can fulfill 10 individual orders during a single trip. It’s a cheaper solution than robotics, and delivers the same level of efficiency. It also is easier to integrate into existing systems.

For all of its benefits, pick-to-light technologies deliver a remarkably simple solution to complicated distribution challenges in one’s warehouse or DC. From greater accuracy to improved efficiency, pick-to-light will be the guiding light that gets business moving in the right direction.

Kevin Sosnowski is Vice President of Selection Solutions at Wynright Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Daifuku Webb and a leading U.S.-based provider of intelligent material handling systems. With more than 200 engineers in-house, Wynright designs, manufactures, integrates and installs a full spectrum of intralogistics solutions, offering both Wynright-branded and third-party equipment to meet client needs. He can be reached at