WMS – Warehouse Management System
In this age of acronyms, WMS could stand for many things, but in warehousing and distribution, it’s only got one meaning: warehouse management system.
The most important function of a distribution warehouse is managing products at every step, from their initial arrival to final shipment. As an integral part of e-commerce, order fulfillment allows merchants to keep a low inventory on site yet also have fast access to additional quantities when needed.
There are a number of factors to weigh in choosing a WMS, but a major stumbling block for many companies is that they have no concept of what their business really needs in a WMS. This makes it difficult to sift through all the features offered by different WMS providers and how much weight to give to each factor. Assessing WMS requirements should involve people from all areas of the business, from executives to floor managers. Once there is a true picture of their requirements, the search for the right WMS may begin by looking at the two “components” affected by a WMS: products and people.
Warehouse Design and Mapping
The best laid plans (of mice, or men in this case…) may not always ensure a perfect outcome, but they can increase the chances of proper inventory cataloging, placement and retrieval. How well a distribution warehouse floor plan is designed directly impacts:
- Efficient workflow
- Improved pick and pack functionality
- Proper placement and recording of locations for optimal use of facility space
Technology drives warehouse distribution management and fosters efficient inventory log-in and tracking all the way through delivery. Tracking features to look for include:
- RFID (radio-frequency identification)
- AIDC (auto ID data capture)
Pick and Pack
Pick pack is a huge part of warehouse distribution, and there are many different options and features to look for:
- Zone picking
- Wave picking
- Batch picking
- Lot zoning
Shipping is not the end of the line. Just because a package has left (or will soon leave) the building, there are still ample reasons to continue tracking it. Every WMS should have the capability to:
- Transmit a bill of lading before shipment
- Prepare a packing list
- Generate an invoice
- Provide assembly directions as appropriate
- Transmit advanced shipment notifications (ASN) to notify recipients of pending deliveries
Reputations Mean A Lot
There is a reason why some WMS suppliers can charge more than others: They have a great reputation not only for the quality of their product but also for the customer support they provide. If it is not properly implemented and supported, even the best WMS is a waste of money.
A WMS is worthless if it is so complex that no one can figure it out. Take it for a test drive before committing. Also, choose one that takes into account these issues:
- Large amounts of data are nearly useless unless the information is formatted into usable report formats.
- Examining information on performance is very important for isolating areas in need of improvement.
- Monitoring staff performance using key performance indicators (KPIs) will increase efficiency in the long run.
- Integration with existing technology is very important.
The Bottom Line
A more expensive system may save money in the long run, but the wrong choice can cost millions. Keep an eye on ROI all the time. Never forget that a WMS is supposed to help, not make things more complicated. Additionally, to avoid going through the review process again and again, consider a system’s ability to grow with a company.