Automating your warehouses improves accuracy and efficiency. The next step beyond simple automation, however, is tying these automations to a centralized warehouse management system (WMS).
If you are looking to streamline operations and accuracy within your warehouse while reducing associated costs, a WMS solution is what you want.
Similar to an inventory management system (IMS), a WMS is a centralized software platform that automates warehouse logistics. It handles everything from tracking material movements within the warehouse to providing deep insights about inventory and warehouse operations.
WMS solutions offers deep insights and control of all inventory and resource utilization within a warehouse, distribution center and beyond. They provide a granular level of control over all product and resource movement. Offerings are typically provided as standalone solutions or as an extension or module of an ERP system.
The Value of WMS
WMS offerings are designed to streamline all warehouse operations and reduce or eliminate the amount of time wasted by employees moving around the warehouse and distribution center. Employees in non-automated warehouses spend much of their workday walking around locating items. Time is also wasted moving among different locations for shipping, receiving, restocking and fulfillment.
Another major drain on productivity and worker resources is the time spent on daily maintenance tasks. These can include making space for incoming products, moving stock around and reorganizing and cleaning.
WMS offerings manage these processes by optimizing the steps and paths necessary to achieve certain tasks, enabling major time savings and productivity increases. They also direct and validate inventory as it moves throughout the warehouse, ultimately leading to costs savings and increased efficiencies.
In addition to improving employee efficiency and productivity and streamlining inventory and resources, benefits of a WMS include:
Improved Supplier and Customer Relationships
A warehouse that tracks and delivers more efficiently will improve customer satisfaction and drive sales. WMS solutions can also strengthen supplier relationships by streamlining the whole inventory and location management process.
More efficient use of space, labor and movement of inventory will ultimately reduce operating expenses. A WMS solution can also help reduce waste by pinpointing items that are perishable or about to go out of date so they may be sold before they expire.
Safety and Security Improvements
Because a WMS offering calculates the most efficient movements throughout the warehouse, it reduces the chance of accidents and injury. These types of solutions also offer audit trails so transactions may be tied to specific workers, reducing the chance of theft and other types of inventory shrinkage.
By optimizing processes throughout the warehouse, companies will be able to pick and automate the types of processes that work best for their specific businesses. That includes picking materials based on algorithms like wave, zone and batch picking. A variety of input methods like smart scales, RFID and bar codes may be used and optimized as well.
Improved Inventory Balance
A proven WMS solution ensures businesses maintain enough stock without running out, but also without overdoing it and needing to store excessive amounts. Maintaining a well-balanced inventory ensures efficiency and productivity goals are consistently being met.
Two Ways to Implement a WMS
When used in conjunction with ERP, WMS solutions communicate and share information from mobile devices and other automation solutions with applicable departments like billing, accounting and human resources. This type of centralized system offers major value and eliminates the time (and human errors) associated with manual querying of databases and trying to get disparate software systems to communicate.
For mid-sized and large companies that already have a hefty ERP solution like SAP Business ByDesign or SAP Business One in place, a WMS module probably makes sense for automating the warehouse.
Navigator's SAP Business ByDesign solution features out-of-the-box integration with several warehouse management system offerings, for instance. The company's SAP Business One offering also enables seamless WMS integrations and modules.
Smaller companies that have not invested in ERP may prefer to choose a standalone WMS offering. These solutions typically cost less and are quicker and easier to deploy on existing infrastructure. It may be more difficult to integrate this type of solution with other software and systems, however, as well as gain real-time insights and reporting from the solution. So while WMS is possible without an ERP solution, it is not the preferred solution.
Ensuring a Successful WMS Implementation
Implementing a WMS solution in your warehouse is a major step, and companies need to ensure a smooth integration with other warehouse software, systems and processes. Finding a trusted partner to ensure WMS integrations are rolled out seamlessly is the key to success.
A WMS specialist will be skilled at working with a variety of backend and warehouse systems to ensure warehouse processes aren't negatively impacted during implementation. These implementation partners also will train your team members on the new system and be available to help manage and maintain the solution once it has been implemented.
It's a no-brainer that a WMS solution provides major benefits to your warehouse in the form of cost savings and productivity and efficiency gains. Ensuring the system is properly planned for, deployed and maintained with the help of a trusted partner is therefore important for a successful deployment.
This seven-part series on warehouse automation has covered the nuts and bolts of automation and why it is so important in today's competitive and challenging supply chain market. Warehouse management has evolved considerably over the last few decades, and automation is becoming a necessity for survival.
By understanding why automation is valuable, as well as when it's the right time to introduce automation to your warehouse, your business can take a slow and measured approach to deploying automation solutions. And finding an automation partner to help integrate those solutions with ERP and other back-end systems will ensure you glean the most out of your warehouse automation investment.