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When it comes to packing products and shipments, a lot of people are surprised to discover there’s a lot more that goes into it than just putting items in the right boxes.

Every warehouse will have their own different KPIs and statistics to track, but whatever your warehouse’s packing and storage goals are there’s two commonly-accepted and defined ways to get things packed away: manual and automatic packing.

What’s the difference, and what can each of them do for your warehouse? Glad you asked:

Manual Packing

What is it: Manual packing really lives up to its name in that all the picking is done by hand, by workers, without relying on warehouse management programs or automated equipment like robotics. While it can still rely on labor-saving devices like gravity flow racks, bulk storage racks, and forklifts, manual packing involves workers handling all the product movement, inventory tracking, and packaging by hand, the ‘old fashioned’ way.
Pros: Manual picking is best used in industries or areas involving fast-moving consumer goods. Businesses such as retail outlets and/or direct-to-consumer sales benefit from manual packing due to the high SKU counts and fast movement of products, both of which can be better managed by a large human workforce and fully refined picking methods. Manual picking lends itself to a higher degree of verifiable accuracy due to the involvement of humans, and can also save a lot of money on equipment, technology, and upkeep.
Cons: That said, manual picking does always leave slightly more room for human error, especially in warehouses with smaller inventory levels. It also runs the risk of decreasing productivity in warehouses that focus on longer-term product storage and/or ones that don’t move through SKUs as quickly, as the products don’t have to be moved or packed as fast.

Automatic Packing

What is it: Automatic packing is a method of tracking and packing items using computerized systems (such as warehouse management software) and specialized equipment to move and pack products quicker. The software is integrated with the equipment to provide more automatic tracking and locating of inventory items, and the items are tracked digitally without involving a human labor force to identify each different SKU.
Pros: Perhaps the biggest and most obvious advantage of automatic packing is the budget reduction. While many of these systems and installations require a large upfront cost, it can reduce the need for a costly labor force and help further streamline and automate operations through the warehouse. Automatic packing can also help warehouses that tend to cycle through inventory or send out products more slowly, as the records are more easily updated over a longer period of time and can keep an eye on discrepancies or inventory shortages.
Cons: That said, automatic packing tends to not be as helpful for faster product movements as the software and equipment needs to track every change made to the inventory, a task that is typically handled more quickly by individual workers handling the products directly. It can also hamper fast movement of products, such as rush orders or direct-to-customer shipping, due to the amount of time the software needs to locate and update certain product counts.

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