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Integrating Carton Flow With Pick-to-Light Systems


The rapid growth of eCommerce is transforming retail. Globally, eCommerce sales surpassed $5.7 billion in 2023, and they’re expected to reach $8 billion by 2027. In the U.S., eCommerce represented 15.6% of total sales in 2023, up from 14.7% in 2022.

With this ongoing shift in shopping patterns come major changes in consumer expectations, especially regarding the speed of online service. One study showed that 30% of customers abandon their carts when shipping will take four to seven days, while another 40% scrap their orders if fulfillment will take eight days or more.

This puts enormous pressure on warehouse operators to streamline their picking and fulfillment processes. Carton flow systems offer one of the best ways to keep pace with the rising prominence of eCommerce. Carton flow can provide one of the most efficient fulfillment solutions when combined with other technologies like pick-to-light — a simple electronic picking guidance system. Below, we’ll explore how pick-to-light works, and how these two systems can complement one another.

Understanding Pick-to-Light Systems

Pick-to-light systems use simple displays mounted on the pick face of each shelf, immediately underneath each unique product. Picking areas are usually organized in zones, with each picker responsible for a small area to minimize travel time.

As orders come through, the picker scans the barcode for the order, and lights under the appropriate product change color (usually from red to green). This shows the worker which items to pick. In some cases, they might scan barcodes at the relevant pick faces to see how much of each item to pick for that order.

The picker pushes the button on each pick face to indicate that the item was picked, automatically recording the pick in the inventory system. Once they’ve picked all items in their zone, they pass the order on to the next picker, who repeats the process. 


Benefits of Implementing Pick-to-Light

As an alternative to paper-based picking, a pick-to-light system comes with several benefits for warehouse operators:

  • Increased picking accuracy and speed: Because pick-to-light allows for fully optimized zone picking, workers spend less time traveling or double-checking orders and more time picking.
  • Reduction in training time and labor costs: Pick-to-light is astoundingly simple to learn — workers only need to scan orders and follow the lights. It can also overcome language barriers, as no specific language is required to understand instructions. Finally, zones can easily be expanded or contracted to meet order volume and labor needs.
  • More efficient order picking and fulfillment: With each worker able to pick quickly and accurately in their zone, warehouses can fulfill more orders in less time. This is especially critical in high-variety inventory environments, where each order may contain a different mix of products.

Pick-to-light is one of several systems warehouses can use to optimize order fulfillment. Others include RF scanning, voice picking, and pick-to-color. 


The Synergy of SpanTrack and Pick-to-Light

On its own, pick-to-light is a powerful addition to any warehouse fulfillment system. Yet, it’s possible to multiply the advantages of pick-to-light by pairing it with a carton flow system. 

Carton flow racks require only the force of gravity to efficiently move inventory from the back of the shelf to the point of pick. UNEX SpanTrack carton flow, for example, can transform static shelving into a dynamic first-in, first-out, optimized storage and picking solution.

SpanTrack carton flow tracks allow you to fit far more inventory in a smaller footprint. They increase product visibility and make it easier for workers to access cases or each picks, all while reducing travel time by up to 70%. 

This sets the stage for an especially efficient pick-to-light implementation. With SpanTrack, it’s that much easier to create small, efficient picking zones with organized, labeled products and light displays for a smooth order flow. Adding pick-to-light to SpanTrack can increase picking speed by as much as threefold. Plus, SpanTrack’s wide variety of end treatments allows for easy integration of light bars and other picking assistance guides.

Combining these systems proved to be the ideal solution for HelloFresh, the wildly popular meal-kit subscription service. After installing UNEX FlowCell flow racks with SpanTrack carton flow, the company increased from 18 to 28 assembly lines in the same footprint, boosting productivity by 30%. Adding pick-to-light to an already optimized layout enabled HelloFresh to further streamline and speed up its order fulfillment process.

Learn how UNEX carton flow racks allow companies like HelloFresh to keep growing. Download the Case Study. 


When and How to Implement Pick-to-Light With SpanTrack

Where inventory is steady and order volume is relatively predictable, combining pick-to-light with SpanTrack can dramatically increase throughput and order efficiency. This combination is particularly well suited for warehouses with a lot of fast-moving orders with mixed inventory. Where order accuracy is difficult to achieve at high speed, dynamic storage with pick-to-light may be just the right solution.

If you determine that integrating SpanTrack with pick-to-light is a good fit for your warehouse, you’ll need to consider several factors as you plan your layout and order flow:

  • Maximize shelf density for efficient order picking: Dynamic storage solutions like SpanTrack allow you to increase storage density and reduce worker movement. Plan your new layout to maximize this benefit by fitting your fast-moving inventory in the same area.
  • Improve product placement to increase picking speed: Consider specific product placement that will help make automated zone picking even faster. For instance, items that are frequently ordered together should be close to each other for quick picking.
  • Consider weights, dimensions, and throughput of your SKUs: Understanding the size, weight, shape, and typical movement of each SKU will help you choose the right SpanTrack rollers or wheel beds for each picking zone.
  • Leverage the data of your new system: Once you implement pick-to-light, don’t miss out on using the data it provides. As workers scan and fulfill orders, you’ll see inventory action in real time, helping you understand employee productivity or make layout changes to improve fulfillment.


Prepare for Pick-to-Light With SpanTrack Carton Flow

If you’re considering a pick-to-light system for your warehouse, don’t make the move without first implementing or optimizing your carton flow system. Businesses can maximize the efficiency of their warehouse operations by combining the strengths of SpanTrack carton flow systems with pick-to-light technology.

SpanTrack is highly durable and its versatile design is the foundation of an optimized picking process, providing exceptional support for light, medium, and heavy-duty product storage. When paired with SpanTrack, pick-to-light systems further enhance accuracy, speed, and productivity, creating a seamless and highly efficient workflow that transforms your warehouse into a model of operational excellence.

Most importantly, SpanTrack solutions are engineered to fit your specific needs. Tracks are available in to-the-inch increments, as rollers or wheel beds, and with different end treatments to accommodate case picking or each picking. Shelving can be tailored to your layout and fulfillment needs and specifications.

SpanTrack provides a simple, manual storage solution that can fit with other technologies. Both SpanTrack Lane and SpanTrack Wheel Bed are perfect for accommodating future advancements and upgrades, including pick-to-light systems. With SpanTrack in place, your warehouse is already optimized to introduce enhanced picking systems.

Transforming Operations With SpanTrack and Pick-to-Light

Pick-to-light and carton flow systems are an excellent combination for many modern warehouses. Solutions like SpanTrack lay the groundwork for efficient inventory flow by condensing storage, optimizing organization, and reducing worker travel time. When you combine SpanTrack with fulfillment solutions like pick-to-light,  you gain unmatched optimization with a threefold boost in picking speed.

Whether you’re considering pick-to-light or other solutions to work with your storage system, SpanTrack carton flow will lay the groundwork for a well-optimized order picking operation. Talk to one of our experts today, and learn how SpanTrack can set you up for success in order fulfillment!

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