June 2020

Logistics Quick Wins - the Article Series by Pierau Planung (3/8)

Pierau Planung plans and implements logistics. As logistics consultants, we are often asked to advise on high shipping volumes, challenging returns, large construction projects or the introduction of WMS or ERP systems - so why are we concerning ourselves with things that at first glance might seem quite trivial in our “Quick Win” series?

The answer is simple – it’s because these small details are everywhere. Our team of consultants looks at many logistics processes in the field from a completely objective point of view. As different as all these systems and processes are, they all share one thing in common: often a tweak here or there can have maximal effect with minimal effort.

‘One scans’, ‘single item shipment’, ‘single orders’ – these are all shipments that consist of only one item in the shipping unit, or sometimes only one piece of an item. There are a surprisingly large amount of different terms for a challenge that, especially in these days of e-commerce, can be both a stumbling block and a cost driver in the daily business of logistics. We call these shipments ‘single unit shipments’.

In addition to our published articles "Tidiness in the Warehouse" and "Warehouse Structure, Take One: ABC", in this part of our Quick Win Series, we will be looking at the kind of typical problems caused by single unit shipments and, of course, providing solutions for implementing optimization potential.

Quick Wins for the Fulfillment of Single Unit Shipments

Intralogistics is all about performance and quality but in order to really gauge these we need to be able to measure them in terms of costs per unit or costs per shipment.

From an accounting point of view, each processing stage from incoming goods to storage processes, picking, packing and shipping has its share of cumulative costs per unit / shipment - and this is precisely one of the problems with handling single unit shipments. If they, together with multi unit shipments, pass through the entire logistics process without any special treatment, they cause above-average costs per item / shipment. If their share of the total shipping volume is high enough, they can also slow down processes and tie up resources unnecessarily.

It makes sense, therefore, to break down the long chain of overall processing and think about where separate processing of single unit shipments can reduce costs. Picking is the most time-consuming process here and both single-step and two-step picking offer great potential for cost savings by handling single and multi unit shipments separately.

Here’s an example from the logistics of one of our customers:

Out of 1,200 picking orders processed per hour, around 400 are single unit shipments. Picking is carried out directly into the shipping carton. The cartons are guided along the shelving racks on a conveyor system and loaded directly. The shipping cartons are pre-dimensioned beforehand depending on the volume of the consignment, and an employee loads several cartons with the article positions of his or her shelf area in parallel with assistance from the WMS. The advantages of this system are that it has simple scalability, low investment costs and flexible deployment of employees depending on order volume (at low peaks, one employee can cover a larger section of the shelving racks).

However, single unit shipments - especially a large number of identically loaded shipments – can lead to a disproportionate workload in this process as they generate high volumes on the shipping conveyor. This means that employees potentially have to travel the distance between the shipping conveyor and the shelf for an item, and can pick article items in parallel processing.

The solution is that single unit shipments are not handled via the regular process of using a shipping conveyor, but instead are picked separately in batches. The employees’ picking performance and the overall throughput are thus higher than when single unit and multi-unit shipments are handled together. The batches are delivered to specially set up packing stations where processes such as shipment consolidation can be eliminated.

This solution is known as separate processing. In our Quick Wins below, we will be presenting the zones of overall processing in which special treatment of single unit shipments makes sense in order to ensure the optimum use of resources for subsequent processes.

Quick Wins:

•   Storage zones for single unit shipment orders

When you create a separate storage area for picking single unit shipment orders, you set the stage for fast processing without the need for batch formation either. Depending on the order volume, you can also make improvements with order-related single-level picking, as it is not necessary to cross several storage zones for an order with one article or have the pickers move around in confined storage areas. In addition, you can dispense with an assembly point for order consolidation.

•   Multi order picking

Separate processing is an advantage, especially when forming batches.  Several employees can simultaneously pick the required goods in large quantities and then combine them into orders at a defined collection point. You benefit from significantly shorter distances and thus shorter throughput times.

•   Separate packing process

Similarly, on the way to the packing process, single unit shipments can be separated from the main process at an early stage by pre-sorting and therefore be handled separately and more efficiently.

•   By creating separate single unit shipment picking and packing areas

where shipments are scanned and processed, you can create additional capacity, especially during peak periods. This can be seen when we return to the example of our customer as previously described: 1,200 orders per hour in total - 400 of which are single unit shipments. These are separated from the main processing and handled in a highly efficient way. Separate processing avoids any unnecessary steps associated with single unit shipments, such as checking the shipment for completeness 400 times per hour. Our customer has once again generated additional capacity for processing multi-position shipments.

The Quick Win series from Pierau Planung at a glance:

1. Tidiness in the warehouse

2. Warehouse Structure, Take One: ABC

3. Fulfillment of Single Unit Shipments

4. Ergonomics

5. Storage Location Optimisation

6. Warehouse Structure, Take Two

7. Optimal Shipping Packaging

8. Music

If you have any questions or comments about our Quick Wins then please write to:
Herdis Seibt and Nicole Morganti at
We will put you in contact with the right person at Pierau Planung.