Guide to Layer Picking

Author: Richard Kooistra

Guide to Layer Picking

With the rising demands from both retailers and consumers for diverse product ranges, pressure rises in distribution centers to streamline layer picking processes. In response, high-volume mixing and staging centers are transforming conventional processes into highly automated layer picking solutions.

Demands from retail officials and rising consumer needs cause centers to adapt their picking into automated forms. The need for automating the picking processes results from retailer requirements such as:

  • Less quantity and a greater variety of SKUs
  • Less inventory on hand both at the store and at the warehouse facility
  • Increased number of drop-offs (deliveries) for replenishment


All these requirements make it challenging for supply chains across the nation to keep up with building mixed-SKU pallets, also called rainbow pallets. The demands require additional personnel and strenuous labor picking, both of which strain the supply chain.

Automated layer picking technology quickly and accurately fills mixed SKU pallets layer by layer. Compared to conventional manual picking and pallet creation, layer picker robotics dramatically increases the speed of pallet creation while maintaining up to 99.9% accuracy.

Investing in automated layer picking technology provides a warehouse with a scalable solution that can scale with operations. Some layer picking solutions have minimal footprints for retrofitting into existing picking areas. Integrating these solutions improves overall warehouse productivity.

Read on for more information about layer picking in warehouses.

What Is Layer Picking in a Warehouse?

Layer picking systems allow for high-volume staging and packing within warehouses. As supply chain demands continue to increase, new solutions have been designed to modernize more conventional methods. In the past, layer picking was completed manually or with a forklift. While these are still viable options, they do not provide the same efficiency as automated alternatives.

With the rising need to simplify and streamline the formation of mixed SKU pallets, robotic manufacturers have significantly allocated research and development resources toward automated layer picking. This style of layer picking is fully automated, reducing the possibility of human error and increasing order fulfillment speeds. The layer pickers can have capacities to lift and move up to 992 pounds per layer at a time, which reduces labor requirements.

Lifting mechanisms used by layer pickers can handle up to 98% of retail food products and other pallet items, including:

  • Light or fragile items
  • Heavy products
  • Slip sheets
  • Pallets with voids
  • Open crates
  • Plastic totes
  • Empty pallets
  • Display cartons
  • Multiple layers


The food, beveragecold storage, and many other industries use automated layer picking solutions as the emerging industry standard for fulfilling orders quickly and efficiently.

Layer Picking Types

Layer picking includes manual methods and automated solutions, such as robot, hoist, and gantry systems. Automated solutions have the benefit of providing greater speed, accuracy, and volume compared to other solutions.

Manual Layer Picking

Manual order picking uses excess time. Order-picking typically accounts for about 55% of warehouse operating costs. Much of the cost stems from the extra personnel and time required for individuals to pick orders.

The manual picking process itself is tedious and suboptimal. Workers spend 55% of their time during order picking traveling, another 15% looking for the correct items, and a combined 30% extracting and doing paperwork or other tasks. This manual layer picking method does not work well for high-volume orders.

Forklift With Clamp or Suction Attachment

Forklifts with clamps or suction attachments are a mid-way option between manual and automated layer picking. This method requires a trained lift truck operator to use the clamp or suction on the lift truck to pick layers and create a pallet.

Truck operators may create a pallet in a central picking area and then lift it with the forks for transport elsewhere in the warehouse. Alternatively, in warehouses with enough forklifts, one truck operator may use a clamp or suction attachment to pick layers and deposit them onto a pallet sitting on the forks of a second lift truck. The second truck operator delivers the pallet upon completion.

Standalone Layer Picking Robots

A robot layer picking system provides warehouses with a flexible solution that has fewer height restrictions than other picking systems. The standalone robot features up to eight configurations for pick and drop positions. It operates equally efficiently in pallet-to-descrambler and pallet-to-pallet applications.

Robot layer picking systems function at temperatures as low as freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit or 0 degrees Celsius) and as high as 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius). An optional feature permits this unit to operate at higher temperatures up to 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius). The robot has a lifting capacity of 825 pounds per layer.

This device is one of the most economical automated layer picking options available for several supply chain applications.

Overhead Gantry Layer Picking Systems

The gantry layer picker features an overhead system that handles high-volume operations that require pallet-to-pallet inventory handling. Custom designs allow for scaling gantry systems to cater to almost any level of warehouse needs. For facilities that also require pallet-to-descrambler solutions, these custom-built systems have the option to add that application as an extension.

This solution works well in many environments, including those that require lifting heavier layers than robot layer pickers can handle. A gantry system can lift layers weighing up to 992 pounds.

Gantry layer picking systems can withstand conditions in cold storage warehouses with temperatures below freezing. These systems operate well in temperatures as low as -19 degrees Fahrenheit (-28 degrees Celsius). They can also operate in temperatures up to 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius) or 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius) with an optional upgrade.

The gantry system is also a key component of layer picking with autonomous mobile robot (AMR) solutions for maximizing productivity in small or medium facilities.

Hoist Layer Picking Systems

Hoist systems operate on two levels with a minimal footprint for warehouses that must optimize space. A hoist layer picker lifts pallets to a mezzanine level to increase space usage in a warehouse without requiring additional square footage.

These systems serve high-volume depalletizing needs in food and beverage and cold storage facilities. Hoist systems operate in temperatures ranging from -19 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit (-28 to 35 degrees Celsius) and can move layers weighing up to 992 pounds.

Benefits of Automated Layer Picking

Automated layer picking dramatically speeds up the process by reducing the time and personnel required to load pallets. With that comes other benefits, including:

  • Unmatched picking ability: Picks up to 98% of all food retail products
  • Improved pick accuracy: Automated layer picking helps reduce the impact of human error on order picking, making operations more efficient.
  • Increased order fulfillment and output: Layer picking solutions enable warehouses to take on a higher volume of orders.
  • Reduced labor requirement: Keeping up with high-volume demands requires a great deal of strenuous labor and makes it challenging to find ready warehouse employees. Automated layer picking reduces the labor requirement for employees, improving efficiency. It also lowers the stress of finding a full team of workers.

Layer Picking Applications

Layer pickers fulfill multiple uses within several industries. The food and beverage and cold storage sectors frequently use this technology to depalletize or create pallets quickly.

One use of layer pickers is picking cases off pallets and transferring them to a conveyor system. Another use of these systems is picking layers from various inventory pallets to create shipping pallets with each layer a different SKU. The layer picking systems also automate stacking returnable containers into layers onto roll box pallets.

Layer Picking and AMR Solutions

Layer pickers and autonomous mobile robots combine to create a scalable solution for food and beverage and cold storage warehouses. Compared to traditional methods, this system improves performance by 25% with a lower investment cost.

Connecting AMRs to a warehouse control system (WCS) automates the movement of the robots to pick up source pallets for replenishment and move them to a pallet picking area. In the pallet picking area, gantries load new order pallets by picking layers from several source areas. Upon completion of the mixed-SKU pallet, AMRs then transport the pallet to an outfeed, wrapping, or labeling station. This innovative process maximizes the use of layer pickers and AMRs for a highly efficient solution for high-volume mixing and staging centers. It also reduces labor and maximizes the use of space in small to medium warehouses.

Request a Quote From Twinlode Automation for Layer Picking Solutions

Reduce time in pallet creation in food and beverage, cold storage, and agriculture industry warehousesGet a quote for Twinlode Automation layer picking solutions or call (574) 271-2300 to speak with a representative.