The fast-moving world of the WMS

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INFORMATION: Free information is available from CHESS on the subject in this story. Click here to request a copy

Changes in supply chain practice have presented some interesting challenges to suppliers of warehouse management systems (WMS) as we try to keep up with evolving market requirements. This is especially true in the FMCG/CPG sectors where the pace of change shows no sign of slowing.

The parameters for success are changing too and emerging technologies are taking the WMS beyond its traditional role. When we introduced our first system twenty years ago the emphasis was on eliminating manually intensive record keeping, and getting systems to automatically place and locate stock. These are now a given and now its all about real time, operational flexibility and added value.

In those early years the industry was focussing on efficient utilisation of space. This remains important as new functionalities such as pick slot optimisation illustrate but performance is now measured in dwell times and stock turn rates rather than how many pallets are in the racking. The trend has always been to maximising stock availability and the latest WMS technologies aim to support the rapid throughputs that minimise inventory, and hence capital, tied up in the warehouse.

Interfacing with enabling technologies
The best WMSs now interface with a much wider range of supply chain devices. Voice based solutions are an established enabler of ultra high picking accuracy and efficiency that promotes better first time pick rates which means fewer missed orders and lower levels of returns. Everyone is talkingand writingabout RFID. But its important to understand that RFID is simply an information enabler. It is how that information is processed that matters and that comes down to the WMS and wider enterprise systems.

Cross docking
No matter how well you do it, handling stock in and out of racking takes time and costs money. The logical conclusion is to avoid doing it and this is why cross docking is increasingly popular in the FMCG/CPG supply chain. In extreme cases the warehouse is little more than a pallet marshalling yard.

Real time capabilities have other advantages when utilised in conjunction with data accuracy. Value added functions enable customers to analyse stock information to improve business performance. They can, for example, assess fast and slow moving stock independently of sales data and allocate areas of the warehouse accordingly, perhaps bringing faster moving lines to zones closer to the loading bay to reduce lift truck movements and consequent handling times.

 A good WMS supports accurate and productive returns handling and adds value by providing real time information to the customer.

Real-time control
Improved links to back office and customer-facing applications place the WMS at the heart of the supply chain and enable new ways of engaging with customers. This means, for example, that customers can exercise real time, web enabled control over their own inventory. One of our customers does this to monitor the progress of its marketing campaigns and allocate unused and returned stock to be forwarded to its overseas businesses for use in local initiatives.

Better handling of returns is a major issue in the FMCG/CPG sectors especially now the growth in online retailing and home delivery has created many more points of contact with the consumer. A good WMS supports accurate and productive returns handling and adds value by providing real time information to the customer. For example, WMS data may provide the first indication of a problem with a product if returns received are above average. The progress of returns during a product recall can now also be monitored in real time. This may have an impact on quality control or compliance issues within a wider business context.

 Load scheduling and preparation is becoming a standard requirement that takes the WMS across the loading bay and beyond.

Another operation supported by the latest WMS is kitting where the objective is to ensure that sufficient components are always available but without too much surplus. One Chess customer uses Empiricas kitting features to support the preparation of promotional items by ensuring the availability of a large number of components that are combined into single packages for delivery to retailers. Online retailers who consolidate orders for home delivery would benefit from similar techniques.

Dynamic task allocation and management by the WMS is vital for optimising resources, especially in the same-day-pick facilities required to support lean supply chains or online shopping. Work in progress and outstanding task reporting enables users to allocate resources in real time in response to changing demands during the shift. Load scheduling and preparation is becoming a standard requirement that takes the WMS across the loading bay and beyond.

But placing the WMS at the heart of the supply chain also increases the importance of its performance. This is why we believe a specialist application is superior to the functionality supported by even the best ERP systems.


 

 

Alex Mills is Marketing Director, Chess Logistics Technology, providers of Empirica warehouse management software with integrated RF and voice technology. Empirica Solutions use RF screen-based and voice data technology to maximise productivity improvements and provide a quick return on investment. And with its unique interfacing capabilities, Empirica integrates easily with existing IT and supply chain solutions.

INFORMATION: Free information is available from CHESS on the subject in this story. Click here to request a copy

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