In this second part of our two-part series on your best warehouse management systems (WMS), we explore some of the aspects of a modern WMS as it affects the functional areas within your business. The first part of this series focused on getting maximum value from your warehouse to your customers.
Simply put, receiving is the process of verifying that the item(s) you find on your loading dock match the items you ordered in both style and quantity. With your best warehouse management systems application, you can scan the incoming bar code and print your own labels with your SKU and other information relevant to your operation, such as vendor names and contact information, purchase order number, lot numbers, package counts, number of pallets, etc. You can even create pallet labels that will help in tracking the life cycle of incoming items.
To get the best warehouse management systems performance, create your future state process first, then research the WMS you’re looking at to determine the extent to which it will support your vision. When reviewing WMS systems make sure they address considerations similar to the following:
- View the details of single receipts or multiple receipts from the same vendor
- Assign storage locations based on inventory or bin characteristics
- Create a matching purchase order for items ordered without a PO
- Receive similar items against multiple PO’s
Lastly, be sure to work with your supply base to assure they are providing the data required to make your WMS operate at world-class levels.
Slotting is the process of determining where certain types of items will be stored and how far people will need to travel to pick them for shipping. Several strategies for slotting involve the following:
- By velocity – Put high volume items closest to the shipping dock
- By velocity with bulk picking – Put high volume, small items in the same area close to shipping
- Slotting by fit – Maximize the use of cubic space
This is a complex analysis, so take some time, determine the level of sophistication that’s needed and begin with a pilot area and limited number of SKUs so the impact can be properly measured.
In this step there are three choices:
- Unload an entire trailer/container and move to the same location
- Unload the trailer/container and sort the boxes by item to putaway like items together
- Unload items and move directly to their storage location.
Each approach has pros and cons. Your choice depends on the quantities received and how soon you will consume it. Take the time to analyze the ultimate use of an item, then implement a strategy for it that will minimize double handling, long travel distances and other wasted effort.
Several strategies can be employed to gather items for shipping:
- Fixed Location Picking – Material handlers are shown the items to be picked on their mobile device, including their storage location.
- Batch Picking – In this scenario, items are consolidated to minimize total travel time or to assure the likelihood that all items for a shipment will be picked together.
- Zone Picking – Material handlers are assigned to warehouse zones. They are assigned items to pick simultaneously for a given order from each zone. These items are then delivered to an assigned area for consolidation and packaging. For large warehouses this approach can significantly reduce the time to pick an individual order.
- Wave Picking – This is a combination of zone and batch picking. It works best for operations that have many SKUs and many picks for a given order.
The important point is for those designing a system to assure that both the layout of the warehouse as well as the configuration of the software support the chosen strategy. Most best warehouse management systems will support any of these strategies. The success of picking strategies will depend on the appropriateness of the putaway strategies that have been implemented.
Modern WMS systems perform a solid role in organizing and assigning cycle count tasks. Within all modern ERP systems a cycle count program can be defined: Will counts be done daily, weekly or some other frequency?
Setting up an ABC approach to categorizing inventory allows for a company to assure that A-items (generally high cost or high volume items) are counted more often the C-items that may be low cost and easily replaced on short notice, i.e. nuts and bolts. The required counts for a given day or week can be sent directly to individual bar code scanners with the latest locations. This will minimize lost time as employees look for items that may be stored in several places.
The counts recorded in the mobile device can then be uploaded to ERP for analysis. Most modern ERP systems will hold transactions in abeyance during cycle count activities, then process at the conclusion of counts. This allows counts to occur whenever it’s convenient for the employee.
Since the best warehouse management systems (WMS) application is actively assisting incoming and consumption transactions, significant increases in inventory accuracy can be realized. As this cycle counting process matures, the need for an annual physical inventory can usually be eliminated.
Kitting & Subassembly
In many cases it will make sense to create a subassembly area in your operation. This could be a light assembly and packaging operation prior to shipment, or an operation to consolidate items required by a production process. In either case specific locations can be configured in a WMS such that material handlers are directed to deliver items accordingly.
Through this blog series on best Warehouse Management Systems we have imparted that a significant portion of WMS selection and implementation involves up-front planning. Therefore, it is critical to identify waste in your system and inefficiencies that may be caused by poor processes or obsolete computer systems.
Your ideal planning process should include business process mapping and defining your desired future state processes to help you find the best WMS solution. After selection but before implementation, define the warehouse management strategy to cover each of the aspects of warehouse management covered in this post.
This strategy definition phase, along with your project plan, is the single most critical part of your WMS implementation. Having completed this exercise, your project team would begin the ERP/WMS implementation in earnest. This final phase of the project is comprised of the configuration, testing and practice with the systems to assure that the desired future state has been achieved.