Growing a successful business is a challenging proposition, and we rely on technology like the best warehouse management system (WMS) in order to achieve this. These challenges are due in no small part to the fact that managers in successful enterprises must conduct and succeed at three distinct and closely-related tasks:
- Design and produce a product that consumers need or want. The finest product in the world will not be successful if it doesn’t meet the needs of consumers.
- Produce it with perfect quality. Being close on the quality scale will just not cut it.
- Price it well. The price of the product should present a solid value proposition to the consumer.
Meeting all of these criteria is a daunting proposition and many books have been written to provide guidance to companies.
However, meeting these criteria is still not enough.
The successful company must be able to deliver this desired, quality and well-priced product when the customer wants or needs it. In a perfect world we would be able to accurately order and receive our raw material exactly when we need it. In addition, we would know with precision the demand for our products, so that economical shipments could be produced, then packaged and shipped to customers as they come off the end of the production line.
But our world doesn’t look like this.
So we balance the distortions in both supply and demand with inventory, stored of course in a warehouse. ERP systems do a fine job of assisting in managing procurement, production and scheduling. But the management of inventory requires a specialized tool set, in the form of best warehouse management system (WMS).
Number and Location: The Core of WMS
Early on, most large businesses learned that computers provided a perfect tool to manage something as tangible as inventory, however many small and mid-sized businesses still relied on paper systems. The result has been the maturation of the computer-based Warehouse Management System (WMS) that support all sizes of businesses, from a small family operation to the largest distributor, Amazon.
At the simplest level with the best warehouse management system, we need to know two critical pieces of information:
- The number of each item available.
- Where each item was placed.
Early in my career I was responsible for a sizable warehouse containing a large inventory of plush, stuffed animals at an amusement park. My system was simple and included manual 3×5 cards with inventory quantities and locations, along with a notebook containing the cross-reference between my SKU’s and the vendor SKU’s. This system worked, but was limited as all required information was in a fixed location, i.e. the data card deck or my cross-reference book. Today, recording this same data can be handled by typing the data into a system, using bar codes or, for the most sophisticated system, radio frequency (RF) technology.
Today, many businesses have the same items in numerous different warehouses that could be scattered over a large geographical area. In addition, many retailers require the supplying business to manage the inventory even into the retail outlets. This scenario – requiring management of both diversely-located suppliers and many customer locations – quickly becomes unsustainable with a simple system. Modern best warehouse management system applications provide the tool set to manage both this complex ecosystem and collaborate with users in diverse locations as well as mobile users.
Setting Up The Best Warehouse Management System
The first consideration in setting up your WMS is determining how data will be entered into the system. In a small storage area with limited stock keeping units (SKU’s), i.e. items, fixed terminals or PC’s may be all that’s needed. Most operations are large enough that some form of wireless technology will be appropriate.
The following are some of the advantages that result from installing a modern WMS system:
- Wireless systems, consisting of bar code or RF scanners, will provide far greater efficiency and throughput as more orders are produced in a given time period.
- More flexibility will be realized as fixed storage locations will not be required. Items can be stored wherever space is available. The quantities and locations sent back to the server will be available to all users.
- Employee training is reduced since the wireless device each picker is using will tell them where to find needed items and how many to pick.
- Real-time, on-hand inventory is available to all users, both on-site and remote. This data can also be made available to consumers. This allows all users interacting with the ecosystem to know the exact status of available product at all times, which will result in more accurate decisions.
- Inventory data can be entered more rapidly and with fewer errors. Even when errors do occur, correcting them will only be a scan or keystroke entry away.
Next, determine if your warehouse layout and equipment will be able to support your WMS:
- Make sure that your storage racking is not too dense and allows for the clear streaming of wireless signals.
- Racks and storage locations should be clearly labelled with both storage locations numbers and the related bar code.
- Make sure that your WMS input/output technology is compatible with the goals of your system.
Additional questions that should be answered prior to installing a WMS:
- Do employees need to have a keyboard to enter data?
- How much data will employees have to enter?
- How large do the scanner keys need to be?
- Will you need scanners that can resist abrasion and contact with chemicals?
- Will the scanners need touchscreens?
- Will scanners be used in direct sunlight? Can screens be read at different times of the day?
- How important is processor speed? Are you willing to trade off faster processor speed for shorter battery life?
Finally, determine how the WMS data will be shared with your ERP system. Will it be shared on a real-time basis or will it be batch uploaded on an hourly or other timeline basis?
Your Best WMS System Performance: Getting the Best Warehouse Management System Functionality: Part 2 of 2
In the second part of this blog series we will explore the requirements and results a business can expect in the following functional areas:
- Cycle Counting
- Kitting and Sub-assembly
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