Why Every Company Could Use A Warehouse Management System
By: Chris Chappell, Software Developer, Westfalia Technologies, Inc.
Warehouse management system (WMS) software is not just for large companies and warehouse operations anymore. A quality WMS can be a valuable supplement to any enterprise resource planning (ERP) system or as a stand-alone entity managing anything from inventory to shipping. However, a WMS is much more than simply managing material in storage and directing what to move and when. It is more about processes and work flow.
Picture a small to mid-sized manufacturing company that is working to fulfill customer orders. A delivery arrives at receiving with a combination of raw materials and finished components from an outside vendor. If the WMS has been notified by the ERP system of the material and its pending arrival, a clerk can simply scan each item and validate the order, or the operator can instruct the WMS to create an inbound order record and scan each item into it.
A received shipment with multiple SKUs can often have multiple destinations. Some material may go directly into inventory, others into fabrication and still others into assembly or an office. A WMS can be configured so that SKUs can be assigned to designated locations based on levels of material or work in progress. The WMS directs an operator to take the materials to the specified location. The operator scans the location and the material, and it is logically moved in the WMS. During the entire process a chain of custody is maintained.
After an assembly is completed, it can be scanned into the WMS at that location. Based on rules set up within the WMS, the product can now be sent to shipping, packaging or storage as inventory. For each of these an operator is directed exactly where to take and store it and the WMS tracks the location along the way.
An item or product is sold, and the ERP system notifies the WMS that a product needs to be shipped, giving the WMS as much information as necessary in order to ship the product. If the product is in storage an operator is instructed to retrieve it. If the rules allow, then a newly completed item can be cross docked directly to shipping, saving the steps of storage. A bill of lading can be generated along with any other shipping documentation such as ISO compliance labels, international shipping documentation, tax documentation or any special handling instructions. A signature capture from the transport operator, either mail, shipping company or freight, can complete the entire process and record it as completed. Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) data can then be exchanged with other systems as necessary.
In summation, a mature WMS product can be used for far more than traditional roles. The only limits are imagination and your vendor. When it comes to supporting your business, two key questions to ask a potential vendor are: "Does the software vendor want to learn about and understand my unique business?" or "How dedicated is that provider to assuring that the new WMS application keeps pace with my business as it grows and overall advancements in technology." Warehouse software can offer all the bells and whistles in the form of hundreds of features. While in all liklihood you, the customer, will only use a few of those features, implementing a WMS into your current warehouse operations has the ability to utilize personnel more efficiently, increase accuracy and allow for customizations to accomodate specific warehousing needs.