Barcode Data Collection with Warehouse Management Systems
At the start, if you're considering implementing a Warehouse Management System, we'll assume that you will also be implementing a barcode scanner data collection system to maximize potential labor savings of implementing this new system. As you review various software packages, look for those that support a wide selection of different manufacturers with multiple devices. Read our article on barcode mobile computers. Make sure the supplier offers all the services you'll need to complete the installation of the barcode data collection equipment. This includes staging (pre-loading the devices with all the software and network settings), installation, training and service contracts. Since most warehouse management systems use wireless (802.11) connections to the system's database, you will need to make sure you have adequate wireless coverage in the warehouse and dock areas.
Other things to Consider
Warehouse management includes a variety of ancillary functions. Although Warehouse Management Systems become more robust every year, its important to make sure the WMS software you select has the capabilities you need. Below are some ancillary functions that occur in the warehouse space along with a description about how they relate to Warehouse Management Systems.
If you currently use or are planning to purchase automated material handling equipment such as carousels, Pick to Light (PTL), robotic transport units, you'll naturally want to make sure that the WMS you are considering will talk to this equipment. Generally this equipment is very expensive and in many cases will drive which WMS you will choose.
Most WMS have Cycle Counting features standard to the software. Make sure that the WMS you select gives you the ability to modify the Cycle Counting algorithm to meet your needs.
Cross-Docking functionality is fundamental to many transportation-based warehouse operations. Cross-Docking eliminates location storage, allowing you to move materials from an incoming trailer or rail car immediately to a staging area where it will be loaded for shipment in an outgoing trailer or rail car. Generally, the staging area accumulates and stores the shipment sub-items until the shipment manifest is complete. Then it is loaded in the outgoing transportation unit.
Route Optimization Software takes the required shipments for a specific time period and allocates them to transportation units (trucks, trailers and rail cars) at the delivery level, optimizing for vehicle efficiency which leads to fuel and labor savings. Often these systems will offer the ability to track the vehicles during their route, and telephoning customers when their shipment will be made later than anticipated.
Yard Management is the management of loaded and empty trailers parked outside the warehouse. As and extension of a WMS, yard management gives you the ability to control the movement of trailers into dock slots as required to offload needed products, and on load outgoing orders. Again, some warehouse management systems offer this as part of the software, or you can select software specifically designed to perform this function. If you choose the latter, you must make sure the Yard Management Software can "talk" to the WMS.
The selection, installation and implementation of a Warehouse Management System (WMS) can lead to significant savings in labor and inventory carrying costs. However, WMS systems are complicated and encompass every aspect of warehouse operations. By implementing a WMS, you are adding an additional layer of software on your existing business management systems, which means an additional level of resources required for its support and maintenance. In many warehouses, this functionality is absolutely essential if the enterprise is to remain competitive and satisfactorily service its customers. From that perspective, WMS systems are well worth the investment in both up-front capital and maintenance costs.
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