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Electric Order Picker

Get to Know Electric Order Pickers

Order picker

Fast, accurate order picking can make or break a business both in terms of productivity and reputation. Businesses that need to pull specific, non-palletized items to fill an order for an external or internal customer look for a tool that will optimize both the speed and accuracy of the order picking function.

The electric order picker is that tool.

In its simplest form an electric order picker is a platform that can elevate a worker so he/she has easy access to the item to be "picked" from a rack. In addition the order picker typically has a shelf or space that the item can be placed while the employee lowers the platform. Pretty basic.

However, order picking means different things to different businesses. High volume big box stores need an order filled faster than say a small machine shop that rebuilds engines. What is picked can also vary greatly. The retail shop may be pulling a boxed grill weighing 50 pounds stored on a rack that is 300" high while the machine shop may need a 400 pound engine head stored 60" off the ground. Different requirements means electric order pickers need different capabilities and the materials handling industry has answered that need in spades.

A Crowded Marketplace

All the major manufacturers, Toyota, Yale, Crown, CAT, Hyster and others, plus a significant number of small specialized manufacturers have order pickers designed for every imaginable use. From self-propelled pickers with forks and a 3,000 pound capacity to push models that are little more than elevated step stools, there is an electric order picker for every need and budget.

If you are in the market for an electric order picker the first thing you want to do is identify exactly what your requirements are and then match them up to the features offered by the marketplace. That's easier said than done so we are spending the rest of this article helping you make those comparisons.

Evaluating Electric Order Pickers

A way to eliminate a large chunk of the available electric order pickers is to determine what kind of capacity (weight of operator and order) do you need and how high your highest rack is. If you are a small retail operation who picks a single, relatively light weight order at a time, the small "push" platform that has a capacity of 300 pounds is probably all you need meaning you can exclude all the self-propelled models. Conversely if you are picking multiple items in the same run, or need forks to handle heavy, odd shaped items then you can eliminate all of the push models.

Assuming that you will need a self-propelled model, here are some critical features you need to compare:

  • Lift and lower speeds. If you are a high volume warehouse where speed is a key productivity element, you'll want to find a picker that has the fastest safe speed for both lifting the platform and lowering it. Speeds will be expressed in feet per minute (fpm).
  • Maximum platform height. Obviously you will want an order picker that will elevate the platform high enough to allow your employee to pick an item off the tallest rack you have. Maximum platform height is typically measured from the platform floor to the ground (in inches) so if the max height is 240" and the bottom of your tallest rack is 250" your average employee is 68" tall you most likely have enough "picker" height to accomplish the task without stressing the employee.
  • Capacity. The capacity you require depends on how and what you are picking. Most warehousing operations will have a "route" planned for the order picker that requires selecting multiple items from different racks. Typically this involved the operator picking up an empty pallet on the forks and then using it to stack item after item on it. If your average item weighs 30 pounds but the average route picks up 48 items then you'll need a capacity of greater than 1440 pounds. If you're picking up odd shaped or heavy components you'll be using the forks and capacity should be greater than the heaviest item in stock plus the weight of the operator.
  • Forward Speed. For the same reason you want fast lift and lower speeds you will want the fastest safe forward speed as you move the picker down the racks. Forward speeds are expressed as mph for loaded but elevated less than 24" and loaded and elevated greater than 24". Just like a sit down forklift the order picker has to move significantly slower with an elevated load.
  • Battery issues. If you have an electric forklift then you know swapping out batteries can be a time consuming process particularly if the battery compartment is not easily accessible. You will want to check to check accessibility as well as any special equipment required in the battery swap/charging process.
  • Other key issues. The five points lusted above will help you narrow the field. Other important considerations include mast construction, adjustable forklifts, turning radius, stability, service schedule and availability of local service, automatic routing options, and warranty.

Operator Safety

Anytime you have an employee working at height you have safety concerns. An accidental fall from even a short distance can cause serious injury. A work platform that requires lifting overhead, bending or overextension of arms can significantly contribute to fatigue or workman's compensation claims.

Providing a safe work environment for the operator pays off with higher productivity and lower material damage. Here are a few safety features you want to look for on an electric order picker:

  • Adequate work space on the platform. Can the operator turn around or move freely?
  • Enclosure of the platform. Are there adequate locking gates surrounding the platform or does the operator need a safety tether?
  • Are controls for throttle, elevation steering and braking ergonomically placed or are pedals required to operate the unit.
  • Are platform floors covered in a non-slip material?
  • Is there an overhead guard to protect the operator from falling objects?
  • Does the unit meet OSHA specs for required safety equipment (horn, lights etc.)?

What's On the Market?

To give you an idea of what the various manufacturers are offering we have provided this chart describing both self-propelled and manual electric order pickers:

ManufacturerCapacityMax Lift HeightLift/Lower SpeedForward Speed
Nissan1220 lbs.324"39 fpm / 96 fpm5 mph / 1.3 mph
Crown3000 lbs.294"40 fpm / 92 fpm7.2 mph /1.6 mph
Toyota3000 lbs.241"56 fpm / 70 fpm5.7 mph / NA
CAT1000 lbs.206"20 fpm / 40 fpm9 mph / NA
Vestil440 lbs.59"UKManual
Zorin Materials440 lbs.58"12 fpm / 24 fpmManual

The right electric order picker can streamline an otherwise time consuming and physically strenuous process and get your products out the door faster. Optimizing this traditional choke point in the distribution process contributes to the bottom line, growth scalability and the company's good name.

If you would like to learn more about electric order pickers visit our Forklift Locator Tool and we'll put you in touch with a dealer or share the latest order pickers available on the used market.