Getting the Most Out of Your WMS

Maximizing your warehouse management system's efficiency starts with knowing the whole package.

The ecommerce boom of the last few years has created a huge need for improved inventory management methods and more effective supply chain tools. And, for many retailers, manufacturers, and distributors, the preferred tool is a Warehouse Management System. According to ABI Research, the global market for Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) will increase at a compound annual growth rate of 14 percent to reach $5 billion by 2025, driven by the growth of e-commerce worldwide.

If your enterprise hasn’t done so already, expect a warehouse management system to come to a warehouse or distribution center near you soon. But, before an organization integrates a WMS into their supply chain, it’s important for them to know the full scope of what they can expect from the technology.

Warehouse management systems come in all shapes and sizes. While some just offer the basics in managing inventory and warehouse processes, others blur the line between ERP systems, or are a major piece in an enterprise’s supply chain. Regardless of any WMS’ specific capabilities, suffice it to say, warehouse management systems are big investments for any organization.

According to ExploreWMS.com,

“on average, total WMS costs for you likely will stay under $1,500 per month for the first year for a cloud system, and under $42,000 (or $3,500 per month) for a perpetual license service.”

After an organization decides to invest in a WMS, it is vital for their workers and administrators to get the most out of the system in order to realize a satisfactory ROI. However, far too often WMS users use the system only as they need it, and on a basic level. Many operations rely on their WMS only for basic pallet number logging or or for reordering items. By doing so, operations miss out on hugely beneficial processes within their WMS that can positively transform their warehouse or distribution center.

But, can you blame them?

Warehouse management systems tend to be large in scope, complex, and in need of consistent customization. When deploying a WMS, its success can be directly correlated with the level of its integration into an operation’s day-to-day activities. A good installation can turn a mediocre warehouse into a humming machine. But, the wrong WMS will likely make little impact – or even worse – slow down its operations.

That’s why it’s important to do your homework when you’re looking for the right WMS. If you don’t take the time to do this, you could be missing out on a lot of helpful features that make a WMS unique.

Top 20 Warehouse Management Software Solutions (Via FinancesOnline.com)

1. NetSuite ERP 11. Dematic iQ
2. TradeGecko 12. Fishbowl Warehouse
3. Oracle WMC 13. Click Reply WMS
4. IBM Sterling WMS 14. Aptean Catalyst WMS
5. SAP EWM 15. Vin eRetail WMS
6. Infor Supply Chain 16. HighJump WMS
7. Zebra Warehouse 17. Magaya WMS
8. Manhattan WMS 18. Datex 3PL WMS
9. Epicor WMS 19. Softeon WMS
10. JDA Warehouse Management 20. 3PL Warehouse Manager

What to Expect From a Standard WMS

It’s important to first step back, and make a clear indication as to what enterprises should expect from a WMS. Any warehouse management system is implemented as a means to streamline daily processes within a warehouse. Typically, these processes have revolved heavily around an enterprise’s supply chain. And, in today’s retail environment, an effective supply chain is absolutely vital for manufacturers and distributors to meet the aggressive shipping requirements of top retailers.

Today, a huge need is visibility within a supply chain. The increase in ecommerce demand is forcing warehouses to become more complex. Warehouses need to store more inventory, but be able to move the inventory at a faster rate. A fully functioning WMS should unify your space with the inventory on hand in order to maximize the space you have and also identify the inventory within it.

In specific terms, here are a few items most WMS should do:

  • Manage inventory thresholds
  • Validate picking/packing accuracy
  • Schedule delivery or shipping dates
  • Identify inventory/pallet movement.

In short, your WMS should simplify tasks related to inventory management. Whether it’s by tracking SKUs (stock keeping units), at your dock doors, or by tracking storage locations, any WMS will need to monitor inventory and assets in some capacity.

But, here’s the tricky part. Any WMS is only as good as the data it is being fed. If team members are not inputting inventory data, asset locations, labor productivity numbers, or shipment details, your WMS won’t stand a chance at providing the data you’re expecting from your big investment.

Again, this is why picking the right WMS is so important. If a WMS is selected that doesn’t work in concert with your warehouse or DC, your team will be far less willing to use the system to its full potential. In order to maximize a WMS’ usefulness, you need as many employees using the system as possible. The WMS you choose must be easy to use, simple to maintain, and hard to avoid.

Commonly Used WMS Tools

Fortunately, many WMS have tools built right in that make updating and maintaining the system a relative ease. After all, WMS providers want you to use their software!

Compartmentalization

Most WM systems put a big focus on the movement of inventory between areas in a warehouse or between hands. Often called transnational management, it is the pivotal moment an item is moved between hands, and where an item can get lost within the supply chain.

Here are a few of the main transnational examples a WMS may track:

  • Receiving and putting away
  • Order picking
  • Shipping
  • Cycle counting (inventory audits)

Once a WMS is deployed in a warehouse, it is vital for the WMS to ensure items aren’t getting lost at these transactional moments. That’s why many WM systems provide workers with an easy to follow set of steps when doing those typical tasks like order picking or cycle counting. Compartmentalizing tasks into a list of smaller tasks is a helpful way a WMS ensures workers are completing jobs from start to finish.

Data Visualization

Many useful WMS products also provide data in a helpful and presentable way. By providing statistics like order fulfillment averages by product, time, or employee, you can spot trends and bottlenecks faster and more efficiently.

The data provided by the WMS is also vital in deciphering the ROI of the system itself. Your WMS should be able to give insight into labor utilization, picking productivity, inventory availability, shipping accuracy and shrinkage. With the right WMS in place, you should see a decrease in errors, and a big jump in productivity across the board.

Scheduling

A well run warehouse or distribution center just can’t be reactionary. You can’t afford to be unprepared when items arrive at your dock door. A WMS with a built-in scheduling module helps warehouses and distribution centers smoothly ship and receive goods at the dock door and in the aisles. When your shipping and receiving schedule is integrated with a WMS, congestion at the dock can be reduced, as well as wait times for inbound and outbound drivers. You’ll also have a better understanding of where and when to allocate labor.

Even more helpful, warehouse managers can set threshold triggers on items, so when inventory hits a certain number, the WMS reorders items automatically. This can help reduce OOS (out of stock) issues, and also eliminate poor purchasing decisions of inventory and assets.

Lesser Known WMS Tools

Several WM systems provide distinct tools in order to give a leg up on the competition. If your warehouse or distribution center has particular needs, you may need an equally unique solution. Here are just some specialized tools currently offered by warehouse management systems.

Voice Picking

Accurate picking and packing is one of the lynchpins to an efficient warehouse. And, these days, there’s more than one way to pick and pack an item. Whether you’re armed with an RFID scanner, or just a purchase order, picking and packing inventory needs to be handled both accurately and quickly. Currently, some more advance WMS provide organizations with voice activated picking capabilities. Voice picking allows warehouse workers to select items while keeping their eyes and hands free. A big safety innovation, voice picking technology allows warehouse workers to focus on the environment around them, decreasing the risk of injury caused by distraction.

Along with safety benefits, voice picking raising accuracy and productivity. Employees don’t have to sort through paperwork, move physical obstacles, or continuously scan items.

Automated Shipping Label and Form Printing

At the critical point of picking and packing, the last thing your warehouse workers want to do is run around looking for the right shipping label, or correct packing slip. Having a disconnected picking and packing procedures can be a major time suck, and is prone to falling victim to human error.

Integrating your picking process with the tools at your packing station can ease the burden. A warehouse system like Manhattan WMS provides the tools to print all the necessary labels and forms on demand at packing time. This greatly reduces the possibility for packing errors, and decreases the amount of time wasted at the packing station. And, with the right printing solution, forms and labels can be printed dynamically for drop shipping purposes. Dozens of differently branded packing slips can be printed without the packer having to do a thing except press print.

Rate Shopping

According to CreativeLogistics.com, less than 50% of shippers take advantage of rate shopping. The majority of shippers use a single carrier. Not only will this cut down on the amount of savings available for your shipping, but it may even prevent you from distributing to certain regions or retailers.

Why limit yourself when you don’t have to?

If drop shipping or ecommerce is a big part of your supply chain, shipping flexibility can go a long way in terms of saving money, and keeping customers happy. The difference between a package arriving in three days versus seven is huge.

Warehouse management systems with a focus on ecommerce may offer a real-time capability to show the cheapest carrier based on the shipping station. Right at the point of shipment, your packing team can find the right carrier for both the right price and time estimate.

Certain WMS’ can even make weight estimates, and then give the pricing breakdown, so your employees can pack items in the most financially advantageous. Taking the guesswork out of the shipping process is one of the biggest ways manufacturers and distributors can reduce their cost of doing business.

Conclusion

Most WMS providers require significant prep and customization for your warehouse before deployment. When choosing a WMS, it’s important to have a good rapport between your team and the WMS support team. Getting the system off the ground will take a good deal of tweaking. But, your team should be on-board with WMS integration. With the right warehouse management system, they can expect a reduction in repetitive grunt work, and you can expect a big boost in overall productivity.

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Resources

[Case Study]

How Roth Industries Package Thousands of Prepared Food Products Every Week.

[eBook]

2022 RFID Integration Guide - Learn how to turn your RFID tags into a great investment

[Webinar]

How You Can Benefit from Digitizing Your Shipping Forms and Labels with MarkMagic

[Case Study]

How Roth Industries Package Thousands of Prepared Food Products Every Week.

[eBook]

2021 RFID Integration Guide - Learn how to turn your RFID tags into a great investment

[Webinar]

How You Can Benefit from Digitizing Your Shipping Forms and Labels with MarkMagic

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