Improving Operational Quality and Efficiency Using Cost Effective Pick-to-Light Solutions

By Alecia Lashier, Director, Software Systems Engineering

The pharmacy fulfillment process includes a great deal of value-added processing that both patients and pharmacy operations find beneficial. However, when you break out non-value added actions within the process, you find that this non-value added time adds up quickly. As a Lean organization, Innovation routinely reviews pharmacy fulfillment operations in an effort to continuously find and eliminate such waste.

Innovation recently performed a study to evaluate waste in pharmacy replenishment and manual filling operations. In both tasks, the picking of medication stock contributed to the largest percentage of time within each operation; 46% and 20% respectively (Innovation, 2017). The picking of stock also attributed to the highest rework rate due to first-attempt picking errors.

The results of this study led to the review of alternate picking technologies and the creation of Innovation’s new PharmASSIST Light-Way pick-and-place technology.

The Benefits of Order Picking Technologies

There are a variety of picking technologies available to assist in the picking and placement of medication stock. As the movement of stock increases, the velocity required to handle the movement also increases. As a result, the type of technology required to assist in the picking operation changes (MWPVL International, 2016).

One of the easiest and most cost-effective technologies to implement in combination to existing or alternate technologies is a pick-to-light solution. Pick-to-light solutions reduce picking errors and increase process efficiency and speed.

Pick-to-Light in Pharmacy

Pick-to-light solutions are estimated to improve picking operations by up to 82% (MWPVL International, 2016). When used in the replenishment of automation dispensing technology, Innovation estimates that the addition of light guidance for picking of stock improves an individual cycle time by approximately 40 seconds, a 26% improvement in cycle time leading to a potential savings of 20 cents per cycle. (Innovation, 2017)

In comparison, manual filling improves by 2 seconds per fill, reducing the pick time of a manual filling operation from 4.5 seconds average to 2.5 seconds average,[1] a 44% improvement with a potential savings of 1 cent per manual fill Rx (Innovation, 2017). Over time, the cost savings and increased throughput adds up, allowing for pharmacies to increase volume without adding staff while improving the cost per prescription at the same time, leading to a valuable ROI proposition.

[1] Innovation uses a three-tier picking model (high movers have the shortest picking time, low movers the highest). This cycle time is a blended average across the three tiers.

Light-Way is Born

There are many different pick-to-light solutions available. A typically pick-to-light solution includes a single LED associated with a single picking location. An LED notification window may also be included to display information such as the quantity to pick, or inventory level. Due to the one-to-one association of these solutions, significant pre-planning for light placement is often required. As a result, these solutions are also limited in their customization and adaptation to changing stock that is common with pharmacy formularies. As a result, pick-to-light solutions are not frequently used in the pharmacy industry, especially for low moving product.

To remedy these inefficiencies, Innovation has developed Light-Way, a highly customizable and cost-effective pick-to-light solution, that can be used anywhere in a pharmacy where picking or placing occurs. Examples include replenishment, manual filling, collation, will call, restocking, and guided stock movement throughout a pharmacy. Instead of using distinct lights for each location, Light-Way utilizes a continuous strip of LED lights that can be dynamically configured to any size stock. Because of the simplicity of the required hardware components, the cost of Light-Way is low. This allows Light-Way to be used for any pharmacy operation, regardless of volume.

In addition to standard pick-and-place operations, Light-Way also:

  • Supports simultaneous operations by illuminating multiple locations as needed based on the order being fulfilled.
  • Allows for zone based operations and the frequent movement of drugs in high, medium, and low volume tiers, changes to formulary, and introduction or modifications of generic products.
  • Optimizes space efficiency by allowing products to be located immediately next to each other, not requiring products to be placed alphabetically.
  • Minimizes the placement of grouped items by directly putting away of grouped items in the same location, instead of spaced out across a larger area.
  • Improves training time by guiding technicians and clerks to the right location the first time without any previous knowledge.
  • Reduces picking errors by allowing intelligent placement of error-prone drugs and visual confirmation of the picked item.

Implementing Light-Way technology in your pharmacy operation is an easy way to increase throughput and minimize error potential by up to 82%. Additionally, Innovation is committed to continuous pharmacy operations process improvement. We are already looking for ways to further enhance picking and placement operations with enhanced voice and visual guidance. Using Lean Six Sigma processes, we also continue to review all pharmacy processes for opportunities of cycle time improvement, elimination of wasted actions, and reduction in the potential for error. Now is the perfect time to optimize your operations and grow with Innovation.

References
Innovation. (2016, 11). Pharmacy Labor Rates Research, Time and Motion Studies. Johnson City, NY.
MHI. (2016, 12 06). Put to Light Solutions Guide. Retrieved from MHI.org: http://www.mhi.org/ofs/solutions-guide/put-to-light
MWPVL International. (2016, 12 06). Distribution Center Order Picking Technologies Compared. Retrieved from MWPVL International: http://www.mwpvl.com/html/order_pick_technologies.html

 

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