Inventory is the lifeblood of the warehouse, and accurate inventory data collection and validation are the keys for operational efficiency. When data quality suffers, the warehouse bleeds in the form of cost and productivity losses, not to mention potentially angry customers who receive the wrong product.
Once the data collection and storage system is automated through a warehouse management system, the next step in warehouse automation is inventory control. The most common way to automate this process is through the use of an inventory management system (IMS).
The Value of an IMS for Warehouse Automation
An IMS is essentially a software platform that offers a granular level of inventory control. It enables complete visibility of all inventory as it moves throughout the warehouse. All inventory data is captured and updated in real-time, ensuring complete accuracy and enabling a host of efficiency and productivity gains. This process also facilitates product location and tracking.
Typical features of IMS solutions include:
- Asset tracking. This feature enables a product to be tracked by a bar code, RFID or other means as it moves throughout the warehouse.
- Reorder point. This alerts managers if inventory is running low and needs to be replenished.
- Service management. This feature is used to track the cost of materials used to provide services. It helps managers better budget for performing certain services.
- Product identification. The use of barcodes, RFID tags and other wireless methods to input products into the IMS. This feature enables warehouses to more accurately identify and track inventory without purchasing expensive standalone scanning solutions.
- Inventory optimization. This automates demand forecasting and inventory optimization to ensure key metrics are being met.
Of course, IMS offerings are generally easy to expand and customize to provide additional functionality. Advanced features may include the ability to capture or track data from supply chain partners, like country of origin (COO) or global trade item numbers (GTIN). Solutions may also add an advanced shipping notification from a supplier or forwarder, as well as license plating to enable grouping of inventory. This allows users to manage groups of items as a single unit to streamline the receiving, put-away and transfer processes.
IMS may also be integrated with barcode label software for printing new or custom barcodes from mobile devices. And field mobility features may be used to extend inventory management to remote warehouses as well as field and consignment inventories.
The Benefits of IMS
IMS solutions provide warehouses with a host of benefits for everyday operations. Overall higher inventory accuracy has a trickle-down effect, increasing efficiencies throughout the warehouse. As a result, businesses will be able to store less inventory and reduce their overhead costs.
Fully centralized inventory visibility also helps warehouses maintain optimum levels of stock, and automation and accuracy lead to drastically improved picking, packing, shipping and fulfillment times. That means automated cycles take only hours instead of weeks to be completed.
Additional IMS benefits include ease of issuing inventory, parts and materials. And parts and food are easily traced to ensure compliance with government regulations and mandates.
How to Successfully Integrate IMS in Your Warehouse
IMS is an important part of warehouse automation, and successful integration with existing data collection, WMS and ERP solutions is the key to gleaning the most value out of an IMS investment. Some ERP systems come with IMS functionality built-in, such as SAP Business ByDesign and SAP Business One, while other systems integrate with standalone IMS software.
Any IMS offering should be carefully paired with an automated data collection process to ensure accurate inventory levels are maintained at all times. Finding a trusted provider to ensure IMS works seamlessly with automated data collection and other processes throughout the warehouse is a safe way to ensure a successful integration.
Inventory is the heart of the warehouse and automation is an intelligent and efficient way to gain control of inventory. IMS solutions offer myriad benefits for streamlining and managing inventory, reducing errors and waste and boosting efficiency and productivity.
When implemented with a trusted partner, an IMS solution can be successfully integrated with WMS and ERP systems to provide a host of information essential for optimizing warehouse operations.
Our seven-part series on warehouse automation has discussed the basics of automation and why it will benefit your warehouses and business. We've also determined when the right time is to embrace automation and how to go about it form the perspective of data collection and getting a handle on inventory.
Our final piece in the series will discuss the importance of implementing a warehouse management system and how to go about choosing and deploying the right solution for your business.