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Getting Started with an Effective Warehouse Management System

Having an effective business starts with an effective warehouse management system. As businesses grow and expand, the need to optimize efficiency and accuracy surrounding the picking, packing and shipping of products outgrows the paper-based systems that have worked up to this point. Customer demand and consumer driven trends towards certain products and services can often overwhelm the paper-based locating and inventory systems. Warehouse management systems represent one way that many businesses keep up with the growing demand. In order to get started with an effective Warehouse Management System that works for your business, it is crucial to understand the benefits and best practices when implementing the new system.

Understanding the Different Kinds of Effective Warehouse Management Systems

A Warehouse Management System (WMS) can help your business reduce the overall amount of errors during the shipping process, including total product transparency and location within the warehouse as well as automating all systems to increase a company’s efficiency in fulfilling orders. Warehouse Management systems can also perform and optimize key functions including receiving goods, tracking stock, ensuring efficiency in storage, picking and shipping, providing information to managers, and dispatching goods. Having the most efficient and effective warehouse management system in place can help to ensure maximized safety, security, and transparency.

Although there are three kinds of warehouse management systems, all three share a similar core purpose; that is, to centralize and control a warehouse’s entire operations.

The first kind is a Standalone Warehouse System with its focus being on the core functions and providing the best tools for warehouse management. Standalone systems focus heavily on inventory management and tools that help a company best manage their inventory. Services underneath this management system can include expiration date tracking, inventory analysis for cycle counting, and bin and storage analysis.

There are also Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) Modules that represent a widespread automation across all functional areas of the business. These models focus on the flow of information between all the different systems. ERP Software systems are slightly different than a basic warehouse management system in that ERP software have WMS functionality but on a smaller scale. These are recommended for large organizations that have an excessive number of systems to manage because of their high cost and potentially high risk at implementation.

The third kind is a cloud-based supply chain management. This kind of system focuses on the integration and communication between various parties within the supply chain. Aiding in inventory logistics and inbound/outbound logistics, and vendor payment and communication, this system helps to create synthesized communication across various spaces and between the company and its vendors.

Benefits of Implementing a Business Warehouse Management System

Having an inventory and warehouse management system becomes necessary over time. The need for an automated and comprehensive tracking system outweighs any manual system and processes that supported the initial business. This is where a warehouse management system can aid in continued business growth. Features such as scanning devices and barcodes provide further automation creating a cohesive system for automated rules for material placement and retrieval. WMSs also provide increased inventory visibility capabilities for ordering and planning, in addition to furthering proper inventory rotation which helps move items efficiently through the manufacturing, production, and shipping operations. Traceability is provided and maximized using barcode and serial numbers that are now required within many industries. Finally, with a WMS, picking accuracy, cycle counting, and other alternative picking strategies (e.g. wave picking, voice), are maximized through slotting, and shipping automation (labels, tracking, interface to shippers), that can help the overall throughput and business velocity.

Things to Consider

When beginning the process of implementing a warehouse management system in your business, whether it’s a large corporation or small business, thinking about works best for your company is key. Warehouse management systems are appealing because of the simplicity and efficiency created once in place. The automation process for a WMS includes barcodes on products and spaces that allows the system to indicate exactly where certain inventory is at any time. Having a standardized barcode system that is layered onto a preexisting or reworked warehouse and location layout, can help increase the overall automation throughout the entire WMS and increasing efficiency and ease-of access for employees. This results in a sped-up wait-time for the customer after pre and post shipping.

Voice technology is another important option to consider. There is potential for voice technology to be useful within the picking process and studies have shown that voice technology increases productivity, accuracy, and safety during the picking process. Along with these technology considerations, it is important to note that keeping in mind warehouse organization and layout, marking, wireless infrastructure, mobile device selection, and printing options, that can be part of your warehouse management plan.

Many companies looking to implement a warehouse management system too frequently rely on the creation of a “blueprint” of the reports, key metrics and analytics they are interested in seeing. Because they rely on this blueprint for information on specific metrics that they think are useful, the current system becomes obsolete and useless for the actual information the company needs. Therefore, taking a phased approach to the reimplementation of a business warehouse management system lets the user explore the program and find the right analytics that lead to increased growth. This approach allows the user to discover the analytics that are most useful and then create a more solidified “blueprint” program. Clarkston Consulting offers many services that can help your business most effectively implement a warehouse management system, from technology choices to reimplementation of a business warehouse plan and can help you review your operations for operational efficiency.

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Contributions by Ashley Stufano. 

Tags: Supply Chain Planning & Execution, Supply Chain Technology, Warehouse Operations