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Process Change
» TMS and WMS
» Warehouse Management
Warehouse Management Software
Warehouse management systems were originally designed to control movement of inventory within a warehouse and facilitate product storage. Picking, replenishment and putaway were the chief functions of WMS. That role is rapidly changing, along with evolutions and refinements in warehousing, to accommodate a variety of other functions like transportation and order management and accounting systems.

WMS, coupled with automated data collection, is likely to increase warehouse accuracy and reduce labor costs, but these types of systems are fairly costly and it should be determined whether or not the cost will justify itself through increased efficiency before a purchase is made. In addition, some vendors claim that WMS will reduce inventory and increase storage capacity, but other experts claim that not much difference can be expected in these measures.

The setup requirements for a WMS can be heavy duty. The system must be programmed to recognize each location and the characteristics of each item, broken down by categories. Exact weights and dimensions must be provided for each item stocked, whether those are single items or stored on pallets or in cases or by some other method. Once the physical characteristics of items stocked are determined and provided to the WMS system, a specific logic for must be generated out of the various combinations of item, order, quantity and location in order to make the system work. There are numerous permutations of the logic used for determining locations and sequences. For example, location sequence simply assigns a number to each location. Thus, pickup is sequenced by flow through the warehouse and putaway is determined by the first location in which a product will fit. Other options are zone logic, which breaks a warehouse down into predesignated zones; fixed location; random location; first-in-first-out (FIFO); last-in-first-out (LIFO); or fewest locations. Still other methodologies include reserved locations; nearest location; cube logic; consolidation; and log sequencing. Sometimes, it is best to use a combination of logic methods, or to change the logic method based on the workload to optimize different productivity functions.

Picking logic may be the most important factor in some operations. Wave picking is an option, as are batch picking, and zone picking. Task interleaving, which mixes picking a putaway tasks, may be appropriate for some operations.

Most WMS work best in conjunction with automated data collection systems, which also vary in type and capacity. Data collection may be facilitated through bar code scanners and use of bar codes. In some cases, radio frequency identification is most workable, but cost is a consideration. Other technologies for data collection include voice systems or light-directed systems. When installing a new system, it is important to make certain which automated data collection system works best with the WMS that is already installed or being purchased.

Other items for consideration include how well the WMS integrates with automated material handling equipment and whether the system is capable of sending advanced electronic shipment notices. Cycle counting, cross docking, pick-to-carton, slotting, and yard management are additional functionalities that may be important for some warehouse operations. Whether or not the WMS supports labor tracking and capacity planning and/or activity based costing and billing is also an important consideration.

It is evident that purchasing a WMS system is not a simple process, but one that must be carefully investigated in order to maximize efficiency in both installation and integration.
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