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Picking parcels to pizza’s – the rise of pick-to-light technology

02 February 2018

In this advanced technological age machines continue to outstrip man in terms of speed and efficiency. Fully automated systems are commonplace but technology can also greatly assist in human based operations bringing vastly improved output.  Pick-to-light technology is a perfect example of machine aiding man in traditional labour intensive tasks.

Pick-to-light technology is a tried and tested method of reducing human errors in production processes. Pick-to-light systems direct operators precisely and quickly to the correct bin locations in order to select the right parts and quantities. Light-directed picking is an effective error-proofing system that can significantly reduce assembly error rates.

Pick-to-light technology first came to prominence in the automotive industry in so-called poka-yoke applications. (poka-yoke is a Japanese term that means “mistake-proofing or inadvertent error prevention). 

Manufacturing companies utilising this technology have reduced downtime costs associated with defects, stoppage and re-work to improve overall process efficiency. A further advantage of this method is the elimination of wasted touches that are common to paper-based picking lists in conventional material handling procedures. 

Building on its success in manufacturing, pick-to-light systems have gone on to revolutionise other sectors such as logistics and internet shipping. With light-guided systems no special language or product knowledge requirements are necessary, allowing companies to have a completely diverse operating staff. This is particularly useful in the warehouse and logistics sector where companies utilise temporary labour during busy periods to perform picking operations with minimal training requirements. 

Light-guided systems will give real-time feedback on order picking and the productivity of the operator. This reporting can be used to identify picking issues and productivity improvements. Companies that operate pick to light systems typically expect over 450 picks to be made per hour by each operator. This is approximately ten times the picks made by a warehouse operator using a paper-based system.

The advantages of pick-to-light systems are recognised across many industry sectors. Even traditionally labour-intensive industries are reaping the benefits. The food industry, for example, is employing pick-to-light technology to aid production and extensive trials are underway for point-of-sale applications including sandwich and pizza preparation. Admittedly an incorrectly prepared sandwich or pizza represents minimal cost when compared to an automotive gear-box. However, the gearbox will be fixed whereas the sandwich buyer will simply go elsewhere next time. The resulting damage to a company’s reputation and the loss of brand loyalty in a fiercely competitive market is incalculable.

Turck Banner offers a comprehensive range of light-guided assembly solutions. Pick-to-light products are available in various rugged housing styles that are wash-down resistant to IP69K. The K Touch series in 30, 50 and 70mm diameter housings with a choice of verification functions. The K Touch series require no pressure to operate, eliminating hand and wrist stress associated with repetitive mechanical operations.

In addition the K50 Optical series offers reliable photoelectric sensing for non-contact part picking applications in fixed-field or polarised retro-reflective versions.

The range is completed by a series of one and two-piece parts verification arrays including the one-piece PVD series with I/O-Link technology that can be used to automatically parameterise sensors and to transmit and/or receive process data. 

From parcels to pizza, pick-to-light technology continues to improve production.   


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