A warehouse management system (WMS) is designed to automate, or at the very least automatically assist with, every process within your warehouse. The goal of a WMS is to automatically manage inventory to create tasks to ensure an optimal picking efficiency. Most logistics organizations today depend on warehouse management systems to manage their complex operations. With advanced reporting capabilities, a WMS allows warehouse managers to monitor performance and identify performance gaps. You can generate custom reports to analyze various aspects of your warehouse operations and make data-driven decisions for continuous improvement.
While an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system facilitates real-time inventory visibility at an aggregate level, the WMS will help decrease receiving mistakes and boost storage efficiency. Key warehouse processes automated by the WMS include receiving, putaway and storage, picking, packing, shipping, and returns.
Once your supplier delivers the goods to your warehouse, the receiving process begins. The receiving process is the first step in your supply chain management process. Receiving is one of the most critical operations in maintaining the integrity of warehouse inventory management. Products are inspected to confirm the quality, quantity, and condition of the goods in the WMS. Any identified defects or shortages are captured in the WMS and can be communicated to the supplier before signing off on the delivery notice. With an integrated WMS, products are properly putaway in their assigned storage locations. The products can be stored on shelves, racks, or bins.
For order fulfillment, a WMS can dynamically allocate work tasks to your warehouse staff based on their skills and availability to ensure the best picker is assigned the right tasks. Different picking methods can be supported in a WMS to improve order accuracy. There are a wide variety of picking methods that can be grouped into the following five: single, batch, zone, cluster, and wave. The method you choose depends on the size of your warehouse, inventory amount, number of pickers, daily order volume, customer service requirements and the number of picks per order.
When picking is complete, the order can be sent to a packing station. Packing is the process of securely wrapping, labeling, and placing items in packages or boxes for shipment. This entire process can be directed by the WMS. Inaccuracies can lead to defects, increased returns, and negatively impact the customer experience. After packing, the order is systemically directed by the WMS to a temporary staging area of the warehouse.
A WMS can generate and print documents for each shipment (e.g. invoices, packing slips, bills of lading). Shipping activities are gathered and stored within the WMS to provide visibility of on-time delivery rates, order volume, cost per order, and accuracy rates. When the truck is loaded and leaves the warehouse dock, the order is no longer tracked within the WMS.
Since returns are a major source of expenses, many warehouse managers are seeking more cost-effective ways to handle them. Returns can create unique challenges for determining if items should be repaired, refurbished, put away and resold, or returned to the vendor. The WMS allows for tracking of inventory by each return status or disposition. Your WMS can also use historical data to identify the root cause of returns and provide corrective action.
WMS key functionalities offer effective methods to increase organizational profitability and customer satisfaction. Keep in mind, the best WMS to meet your standard depends on your specific needs and goals. Implementing a WMS can help reduce labor costs, improve inventory accuracy, decrease errors in picking and shipping, and improve customer service.
—Ashley Rhodes, St. Onge Company