For many UK manufacturing environments the term warehouse management system is something strictly confined to the world of distribution. Manufacturing makes, distribution delivers and never the twain shall meet, right?
In many organisations, production is in full control of the manufacturing process from raw materials to finished goods. Completed products leave the production line and anything else is the responsibility of distribution. There may be a warehouse on site and it may in fact be controlled by a sophisticated warehouse management system (WMS), but apart from possible information links relating to product transfer, they are different worlds.
Well things are changing. With the dramatic advances in supply chain management and a plethora of new customer demands, an increasing number of businesses are realising that the WMS which controls finished goods so well, is also ideally suited to the control of raw materials and all the associated products required for the manufacturing process.
a single system can cross the boundaries and provide a complete solution for product movement throughout the business.
Many of the functions are actually the same: rapid throughput, goods in, inventory management and delivery of exactly the right items when and where needed. So how far can a warehouse management system go in delivering that picture of paradise? In truth we probably know that the limitations lie within rigid and long established business practices and not within the system.
Traditionally warehouse management systems have mainly been implemented within the finished goods storage and distribution environment, although there is smaller but never the less significant number using WMS to store and support production raw materials. Yet rarely has the full capability of the WMS been maximised by controlling both areas and resources with the one system.
Although this appears to be an extremely logical and simple approach, examples are few and far between. There could be many reasons for this, such as an assumption of incompatibility, if its good for distribution it won't work for us! Logically, raw materials and finished goods are at opposite ends of the production process and may even be physically at opposite ends of the site. The finger could also point to traditionally less flexible WMS system programs, departmental rivalry and yes, why not, poor consultation from the WMS supplier in the first place.
With the advent of advanced solution technology and the freedom of rules based processing, the ability to manage multiple environments with differing requirements on the same WMS is a reality. It is also important to note that this solution dovetails excellently with the many other systems possibly already in place within the business, such as MRP, POP and SOP for example.
The perfect scenario would be:
The significance of this scenario is the automated nature of the control. Not only the movement of all the product, but also the administration, co-ordination of the human and material handling equipment resources that fulfil the requirements and the exact timings of the events.
Combine this with the fact that the delivery of raw material can be to exact production line side drop points, with the results of manufacturing also being automatically collected from the production environment creating a powerful solution.
So it is not difficult to envisage how, with a lateral and open mind, a single system can cross the boundaries and provide a complete solution for product movement throughout the business.
All this from a WMS. Just proving that what some traditionalists see as merely the preserve of logistics should actually be a key component of the end-to-end production process.
Mark Darley-Usmar is Commercial Director of Synergy Logistics. The company is a leading developer and implementer of warehouse management systems with clients ranging from Blue Chip household names to small niche industries and businesses.