When we talk about warehouse management solutions (WMS), often a simplified view of or distillation is applied; inventory management. The reason for this is because at the core of any warehousing operation is the inventory that will be managed.
Warehouse management, and by extension a WMS, is more of an all-encompassing approach to the operations and management of the warehouse environment. Of course, inventory is the primary focus, it is after all what the warehouse is storing. Yet, beyond what is being stored in the warehouse, what are the principle keys to a good warehouse management solution that will make operations a success?
Let’s begin at the core, the inventory, and work our way out. The inventory within a warehouse is the principle asset being managed. Knowing what it is and how much of it you have are basic information that needs to be tracked. That inventory has much more information that is associated to it. Information like who owns it, lots and serial numbers, packaging, sizes and weights, cost, and the list goes on. Beyond this you will also want to know when the inventory came into the warehouse, when orders and shipments need to be prepared, organizing resources for fulfilment and other related tasks, and more. As you can see, inventory is definitely at the core. A WMS functions in assisting you to manage every part of your warehousing operation efficiently and relating all the data and processes back to the inventory.
At the very least a WMS should be able to indicate how much inventory you have and where it is located within the warehouse. But if we really want to take advantage of the benefits of a WMS, let’s explore areas that a good WMS should be equipped to manage.
We’ll start with the receiving process. A WMS can facilitate all aspects of the inbound of inventory. From knowing when a delivery is expected, who it is coming from, the quantities, documentation, entering items into inventory, and more. A WMS will record and gather all of this data and allow your team to take in new inventory from a variety of sources in an organized fashion.
The putaway is the determination of where those newly received items will be stored. Of course, there are many considerations to take into account and this is where your WMS can expertly help. A WMS will be able to indicate what locations are best suited for the inventory you’re storing as well as which locations have capacity for that inventory, the most optimized location to store the inventory in, and best route for staff to take when putting away inventory for storage.
Picking is one of the most integral parts to the fulfilment process for any warehouse. Once an order comes through for a set of products to be shipped it is up to warehouse workers to then gather these items in preparation for shipping. A WMS helps in planning which orders should be prioritized over others, which inventory should be picked to fulfill on a particular order, provides visibility to warehouse staff of orders to pick, and the most efficient path or route to take to gather those items.
Once the picking is complete usually the items then need to be packed before being put on a truck. With all these items being brought to a station to be packed a WMS can help to identify to the packing team which orders the picked items belong to. They can then choose the right type of packaging needed, print the correct labels, and crosscheck to make sure all the items and correct items have been picked. Simultaneously the WMS can track and update the warehouses packing material inventory while packing is taking place.
The shipment is the point at which the packaged items will leave the warehouse. WMS’s help to facilitate this process by scheduling when the shipment is expected to leave the warehouse, when the packages leave the warehouse, who is the carrier, and at what dock/door the packages should be staged at for pickup. This type of information helps warehouse staff organize the shipments in the correct areas of the warehouse, allowing for the quickest loading time possible. Once the shipment departs this information is then recorded and can then also be transmitted to the various parties involved and then tracked to the final destination.
Making sure that carriers are scheduled on time and show up at the right dock is crucial. Yard management is another facet of a WMS that ensures that warehouses can organize carrier arrivals and departures at their facility similar to how air traffic controllers manage the airspace around an airport.
In all of these processes is of course the people who work within the warehouse ensuring that operations run smoothly. Here too a WMS can have an impact. Labor management is a huge asset when it comes to managing a warehouse. Now we’re not talking about tracking people for the sake of micromanaging them. That would be counterproductive. But by having labor management functionality a warehouse can ensure that they are allocating the right amount of staff resources to complete a task on time. As well as finding areas where they can gain efficiency in their people oriented processes. And then identify staff how productivity is affected by varying circumstances and how to improve the work environment overall.
As we’ve seen managing inventory has a great many facets to it. These key functions above are the difference between simply keeping count of inventory and managing all parts of your warehouse operations. A WMS manages all those facets and assists warehouse staff to perform their tasks efficiently, to plan accurately, and maximize productivity.