Top 10 “Must Have” Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) Features — Part 1

Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) are increasing becoming a technology that distributors and manufacturers rely on to automate warehouse movements in order to track inventory better including enhancements in performing a unified and efficient method for the proper flow on inventory. This article will focus on the top ten “must have” features within a best-in-breed WMS System. There is much more “layered” functionality within this technology. This report will give you an idea of a good foundation for WMS functionality and how WMS can help with operationally improvements.

10 “Must Have” Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) Features — Part 1

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picking

The Picking functionality in warehouse management systems is a core functionality designed to move the paper picking process to a wireless device. Warehouses come in different shapes and sizes. Some are “wide open” in a square shaped space. Others are contained in buildings on multiple floors, utilizing elevators to transport materials. Warehouses will have varying ceiling heights. Some might have yard space.

Materials handling will differ by product shape and size. As a result, the warehouse racking infrastructure will vary by product size. Many warehouses keep large products in bulk stacks or pallet racks. While with small products, picking efficiency may be increased by storing smaller products in flow racking or static shelving.

Product velocity and order types also affect warehouse layout and consequently the picking strategies. Companies that ship single-sku pallets of product to customers will have significantly different warehouse operations than ones that ship trailer loads of mixed-sku pallets (grocery is a good example of this).

Even subtle differences in customer requirements for consumer products wholesalers will have substantial effects on the materials handling and picking. Operations that ship to retail distribution centers will have different fulfillment requirements than those that ship directly to stores.

Some of the many picking styles are listed below:

  • Wave Picking
  • Batch Picking
  • Product Picking
  • One Scan Picking
  • Scanner Picking

In addition to picking styles, there are numerous benefits for having warehouse picking systems including :-

  • Multiple pickers can pick in a single sales order
  • Single picker can pick on multiple sales orders
  • Password protection for skipping and shorting picks
  • Configurable worklow prompts for bin, packsize, and carton
  • Ability to generate a packing slip after last pick
  • Ability to assign orders to s specific user
  • Ability to reapack item
  • End of Line (EOL) workflow controls what additional processes happen to sales orders after they are fully picked
  • And more, including additional advanced picking functionality

Receiving

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Receiving is another key “must have” in any warehouse management system. Receiving is another functionality designed to migrate the paper receiving process to a wireless device. Once a purchase order has been entered into an ERP system, it is seamlessly transferred to the WMS (warehouse management software) where receivers await shipment. They are armed with wireless mobile computers that have integrated bar code scanners.

After an inbound shipment arrives at the warehouse, the receiving team will typically unload the truck and grab the paperwork to identify which purchase orders are being received.

The first job of the WMS Software is to receive items accurately into the warehouse and then reconcile the shipment against the original purchase orders entered into your ERP system. Rather than using pen and paper to reconcile physical receipts, the receiver will bring up the purchase orders on a handheld computer. Once this is done, the receiver only needs to start identifying the product that is being unloaded (in no particular sequence).

With “best-in-breed” WMS Software, the receiver counts down against items being received right off of the container. It validates items against multiple purchase orders in the background, and then seamlessly updates your ERP system. No more paperwork!

Because a receipt is recorded as soon as items are entered into the handheld, stock may be immediately put away to a bin location. Bin location assignment following receipt may be automatic; stock can be transferred to a temporary receiving location if receipts are to be staged prior to put-away.

Most of the time, stock will be put-away following goods receipt. If there are backorders waiting for product (standard or non-stock) or there is a “low stock alert,” stock may be put away directly to pick locations. Otherwise, stock handlers will move pallets into bulk locations (typically up in the pallet racks or on floor stacks).

Some of the highlighted benefits for accurate, efficient warehouse receiving include:

  • Receive multiple orders simultaneously in no sequence, without paperwork
  • Scan product bar code or use quick lookup functions to identify products as they are being received
  • Print carton or pallet-ID labels as product is being received
  • Receive multiple pack-sizes on the fly.
  • Cross-dock non-stock items to forward pick locations
  • Immediately put product away without staging

Counting

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Another “Key” feature for better inventory control is counting. Counting should be a core module in any Warehouse Management System to accurately track all inventory. Any sort of Counting Functionality should ideally support both Cycle Counting (forced and manual) and physical inventory counting.

Many distributors conduct an annual physical inventory. That is, they count the products in their facilities once a year. Unfortunately we’ve found that most physical inventories are a total waste of time and money. Why?

Usually anyone with a pulse is drafted to count inventory during the physical. Even people who are not familiar with your products (like the receptionist and her brother-in-law) will be sent out to the warehouse so that all of the products can be counted in the time allotted.

Workers do not enjoy the physical count process. They probably have better things to do with their weekend than spend it in a hot or cold warehouse counting products. In all probability their actual objective is not to perform an accurate count, but to put down on the count sheet whatever management will accept so they can go home.

There is a tremendous time pressure to finish the count. Shutting down operations for a physical count is a very expensive process. Usually at the end of the time allotted, management will decide to accept the existing count as being as “accurate as possible” so that the company can return to the task of servicing customers. Many discrepancies between the computer’s perpetual inventory and the quantity counted may remain unresolved.

Even if an annual physical count is 100 percent accurate, how long does it stay accurate? A week? A month? Many distributors respond that on-hand quantities only remain accurate until they start shipping material again. For most distributors, cycle counting provides a much better tool for maintaining accurate stock levels than an annual physical inventory. Cycle counting is the process of counting a few products every business day throughout the year.

There are three common methods to determine what products to count on a specific day:

1. Random selection — Products to be counted are chosen at random. While this method keeps potentially dishonest
 employees on their toes, it does not ensure that all items in a warehouse will be counted on a regular basis.

2. Geographic selection — Products are counted in sequence. Starting at one end of the warehouse a certain number of products are counted each day until the counters reach the other end of the building. All products are counted the same number of times, even though some products are more susceptible to discrepancies than others.

3. Rank-based selection — Products that are sold most often (regardless of quantity) or have the highest cost of goods sold are counted most frequently. Slow-moving products and dead stock items are only counted once a year.

Of the three methods, we’ve found rank-based cycle counting to be the most effective at maintaining accurate stock levels. The more frequently an item is sold, the more chance for inventory inaccuracy. After all, every time someone fills an order or puts away a stock receipt is another opportunity for an error to occur. And the products that are requested most often are probably extremely important to your customers. In order to provide good service, it is critical that you have accurate counts for these items.

It is interesting that, for most distributors, relatively few products are responsible for the majority of product requests (also known as “hits”). You may have heard of the 80–20 rule or “Pareto’s Principle.” This theory states that 80 percent of your sales are derived from 20 percent of your inventory items. We’ve found this not to be true. Usually only 10–13 percent of a distributor’s inventory items are responsible for 80 percent of activity and 50 percent of items are responsible for 95 percent of sales.

We want to count the few items responsible for 80 percent of sales very frequently, perhaps four to eight times a year. Items with fewer hits can be counted less often. Let’s look at a typical rank-based cycle counting program. Items are sorted in descending sequence by hits. The items that are responsible for 80 percent of total activity are assigned to the “A” rank, products responsible for the next 15 percent of activity are assigned to the “B” rank, “C” rank products include the products that are responsible for the next 4 percent of activity, and “D” rank products are responsible for the last 1 percent of activity. Products with a rank of “X” have no activity (they’re dead stock).

• Count the “A” rank products six times a year
 • Count the “B” rank products three times a year
 • Count “C,” “D,” and “X” rank products once or twice a year

Rank-based cycle counting ensures that your counting activity is productive. Spending just an hour or so a day counting can make the difference in maintaining an accurate perpetual inventory system. It takes a lot of discipline to implement and follow a program in which you count a certain number of products every business day. Many distributors have tried cycle counting and abandoned the program. They’ve been frustrated as other tasks have interfered with the process or they have not been able to complete counting all of the products scheduled on a certain day. The following ideas have helped many of our customers develop successful cycle counting programs. These companies are working “smarter” rather than “harder.”

Additional WMS Software Counting Functionality could include :-

  • Cycle Count by Bin
  • Inventory Count / Recount
  • Cycle Counting serialized items
  • Configurable workflow prompt for bin
  • Option to allow adjustments to inventory during Cycle Count based on discrepancies between expected qty and counted qty
  • Option to hold adjustments created through Cycle Counting in a pending state, for supervisor review
  • Ability to define bins to exclude from cycle counting
  • Physical Inventory Wizard supports Multiple Warehouses
  • Cycle Counting single-item license plates
  • Stock Locator

Stock Locator

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Another critical area of functionality in a “best-in-breed” Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) is Stock Locator or just called Locator functionality. This feature is designed to provide visibility into the physical location of goods in the warehouse facilitating the movement of those goods within the warehouse.

Stock Locator functionality can also include “limited multi-warehouse” functionality in which multiple warehouses can be defined. The WMS system can restrict sales order and purchase order processing based on the warehouse specified in the download from the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) System.Simple bin-to-bin transfers can be used to move inventory between warehouses and all users can have full visibility to inventory and sales across all warehouses.

Further WMS Locator Functionality could include:

  • One-Step and Two-Step Moves
  • Hot Replenishment (Letdown and Fill Bin) Replenishment by Direct Move
  • Sticky Bins, assigning and deleting permanent homes
  • Decimal quantities
  • Ability to enter Incidents via the handheld
  • Hot Key to Miscellaneous Adjustments from Direct Move
  • Ability to Associate Pack Size with SCC-14 Cross Reference Barcodes to bypass prompt on the handheld
  • Replenishment Letdown by Quantity, Product, Pick Zone
  • Ability to Print SCC-14 Labels from Product Label Printing
  • Restrict Consolidation of Stock with different Expiry or FIFO Dates
  • Auto-breakdown of Packsizes in Random Bins during Allocation
  • Reserving Stock / Moving Reserved Stock
  • LOT/SERIAL NUMBER TRACKING
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  • Another “must have” with any Warehouse Management System is Lot/Serial Number Tracking; this feature is designed to extend the inventory management capability in the warehouse to include tracking discrete balances by lot and/or tracking specific serial numbered itemsDetailed basic functionality could include:
  • Bin-level tracking
  • Capture at Receiving
  • Validate during Picking, Cycle Counting, Direct Move
  • Allocate host-specified Lots / Serials
  • Allocate Lots by FIFO
  • Advanced Lot/Serial Number Tracking expands WMS software with more robust inventory management functionality such as single/mixed attributes and expiry allocation.
  • Single Attribute Allocation Restrictions means that for lot tracked items, the system can ensure that an entire order line is filled from a single lot (some warehouses deal with customer-imposed restrictions on whether shipments can contain mixed lots)
  • Furthermore, some Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) functionality offers support for scanning 2-dimension barcodes for capturing serial numbers (in picking)
  • PART 2 — Yet to come!!!

Originally published at Flexspace Blog.