Six Reasons to Invest in a Warehouse Management System

If your business uses warehouses to store and distribute product, consider these questions:

  • How are your warehouses handling growth and change in your business?
  • Are you taking steps to optimize your inventory management and reduce wasted space?
  • What are you doing to make it easier for your warehouse employees to do their jobs?

You’re not alone if you don’t have easy answers. For many businesses, supply chain and warehouse management is still a reactive process rather than a proactive one. However, that’s changing quickly with the widespread adoption of warehouse management systems. 

A Warehouse Management System (WMS) is software that turns your warehouse into an engine of digitized 21st-century commerce. Some of the key functions of a WMS include:

  • Inventory tracking and management
  • Labor management and allocation
  • Bin layout optimization
  • Paperwork management
  • Reporting and KPIs

With all that functionality, it makes sense that a good WMS doesn’t come cheap, and all of them take some work to implement. However, your organization can reap considerable benefits from these systems that make the costs more than worth it. Here are five reasons your supply chain will thank you for making the investment now.

  1. Human error is natural — but you can’t afford it.

PeopleVox’s 2017 E-Commerce Fulfillment Report found that 46 percent of respondents identified human error as their greatest obstacle to an efficient receiving process. It’s true, of course, that we all make mistakes. But in the era of one-click ordering and Amazon Prime, it’s more essential than ever that your warehouses keep up the pace, and human error incurs significant time costs.

Manual tracking systems such as Excel or pen and paper offer few ways to meaningfully double-check anything. They also tend to be particularly time-consuming and intimidating for new employees. A properly implemented warehouse management system can decrease pick times, streamline receiving and enable new employees to hit the ground running. Human error is a variable that every business has to deal with, but a good WMS will put the power to reduce it in your hands.

  1. A warehouse management system helps keep up with growth.

You’re focused on growth, so make sure you have the tools to manage it. Growing pains almost always accompany sustained growth in business, and they can come in forms you don’t expect. Maybe your warehouse isn’t ready for the intense demand that accompanies introducing a seasonal product. Or perhaps your layout is optimized for shipping drums, but your warehouse suddenly has to start shipping IBC totes as well. 

These gaps between demand and capacity can lead to all sorts of serious issues, including losing customers and supply chain breakdowns. To avoid these problems, it’s important to invest in infrastructure that gives your business room to grow. Implementing or upgrading WMS software is one of the best investments you can make for your company’s future growth. With a functional and flexible WMS, your employees will have the tools to manage growth in both demand and supply. 

Also, keep in mind that it’s not just software that might need upgrading. You may also need to invest in better hardware to get the most out of your WMS. Many WMS software options include advanced mobile suites that leverage devices like smartphones and tablets to streamline warehouse operations. If you haven’t found the budget yet to upgrade that warehouse desktop with the outdated OS, the time to do it is before you need to. 

  1. You’ll be able to see, track and use KPIs in a more focused and effective way.

Most businesses monitor warehouse KPIs, but if you don’t have WMS software, you may not be getting the full picture. Plus, a WMS gives you the tools to take action on your KPIs, not just track them. It’s a vital tool for piecing together the holistic picture of your KPIs to see how they’re affecting your bottom line.

Real-time metrics tracking can identify common trouble spots and empower you to create strategies to deal with them. If pick times are lagging, you can look at specific items that take a long time to pick and work with your warehouse team to speed up the process. Having consistent problems with damaged inventory? Your WMS software can help you identify patterns so you can optimize shipping materials to address the problem. 

  1. It makes it easier to coordinate with carriers and control inbound and outbound freight.

Handling the paperwork for inbound and outbound shipments, such as bills of lading, is time-consuming for warehouse staff, and it’s just as subject to human error as anything else. Most WMS systems allow warehouse and logistics employees to automatically create and send bills of lading, shipping manifests and other essential supply chain documentation. The decrease in paperwork and the accompanying paperwork mistakes makes life easier for both your employees and your freight carriers.

  1. It makes just-in-time inventory management possible.

Just-in-time inventory management is a strategy that many businesses use to reduce the amount of inventory they have to store. Businesses using this strategy order products and materials largely on an as-needed basis, rather than holding significant stocks in reserve. It’s a proven method for cutting down on storage costs and unsold inventory.

JIT can be extremely effective, but it comes with significant risks for companies who don’t have the data capacity for accurate demand forecasting. A WMS is an essential part of a JIT strategy because it provides detailed data on what moves and what doesn’t. If you’ve been struggling with slow-moving inventory and high storage costs, a JIT system powered by a high-performance WMS is a great option to look at. Just make sure the system you choose includes a robust forecasting function. 

Dozens of great WMS options are now on the market. Some are flexible enough to accommodate nearly any type of business, while others are focused on certain models. It’s safe to say, however, that one of them is right for you. Whichever one you choose, remember that it’s an investment not just in what your business is now — but in what it can be tomorrow.

Cory Levins serves as the Director of Business Development for Air Sea Containers.  Cory oversees the development and implementation of ASC’s internal and external marketing program, driving revenue and profits from the Miami FL headquarters.

8 Ways to Improve Your Fulfillment Efficiency by the App

Whether you’re running a small family business or a large-scale distribution center, you know that gaps in efficiency can seriously slow your business.

Whether you’re running a small family business or a large-scale distribution center, you know that gaps in efficiency can seriously slow your business. And, in today’s consumer-driven economic landscape, there is no room for moseying, with 63 percent of consumers saying they expect three-day delivery as the standard. Taking a good hard look at your process can help ensure that you’re running an efficient operation and that your customers are always pleased with your services.

Inefficiencies in the form of inaccurate inventory, slow restocking, under-performing technology and others could cost you millions per year if not addressed, but identifying them can be its own costly challenge. Here are some of the ways you can find, and close, the vulnerabilities in your fulfillment process.

  • Boost Inventory Accuracy — Did you know that, on average, retail inventories are only accurate 63 percent of the time? Why is this such a big deal, you ask? If your inventory numbers are off, you’re unable to properly store, pick, package and ultimately fulfill at peak efficiency. Not to mention, we all know that customers and partners expect to see what’s in stock and when while they’re ordering. Improve inventory accuracy with fulfillment inventory solutions that ensure unparalleled accuracy.
  • Make Your Process Predictable — When your process varies widely from one day, week, month or season to the next, inefficiencies arise. The fact of the matter is, if you don’t know what to expect each day, you’ll lose out on labor and operational costs, not to mention an over- or understock of goods. Invest in a good business distribution software to help monitor, predict and automate your systems for more predictability. When your software does a good portion of the monitoring and maintaining for you, it’s easier to refocus your attention and improve efforts elsewhere.
  • Invest in an RFID System — Budget-drainers in the fulfillment process can add up quickly and prevent your business from rapid growth, but it can be really tough to identify them if you don’t have the proper systems in place. Transparency and data tracking at every level of the supply chain is vital to helping you develop solid analytics, and analytics are necessary for making impactful changes on a day-to-day level. With radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology and a detailed tracking software, you open up transparency and tracking like never before, helping to ensure better data aggregation. 
  • Reduce “Touches” and Handling — Take a look at the average number of touches—that is, number of times an item is being handled—of a typical item in your facility. The more touches or steps, the more room for error and mishandling. Reducing the amount of times each unit is handled is a worthy fulfillment effort that can help prevent error, damage and theft while boosting the speed of your process. Note that touches aren’t limited to human touches. Any step in the fulfillment lifecycle could be considered a touch, whether it’s a robot picking, a pallet transporting or a human packaging.
  • Optimize Facility Flow — You may think that the way your facility is laid out has little impact on the efficiency or success of your business, but that’s simply not so. Creating a fluid flow, from accepting inbound goods to shipping items out, is important to helping prevent roadblocks and inefficiencies in the process. Hiring a warehouse layout optimization specialist is the best way to go about this if you think that your facility needs a pretty massive overhaul. It will also help you optimize your storage space so that you can store more without the need to upgrade.
  • Use Less Packaging — It should be every fulfillment manager’s goal to reduce the amount of packaging used. More packaging equates to more steps, more handling, more time, more money and more waste. Take Amazon as an example of how to reduce packaging to boost inventory: The eCommerce giant is working to challenge their massive packaging inefficiencies by using more envelopes and developing a system that allows them to ship items in their original packaging. Your aim should always be to figure out how to best protect items in transit with the least amount of materials.
  • Optimize Picking Operations — Picking—the act of grabbing specific items to prepare them for shipping—is one of the core components of any well-oiled fulfillment center. Because even miniscule inefficiencies in picking can seriously affect your bottom line, there are all sorts of incredible picking technologies out there (again, just look to Amazon for examples). But you don’t have to shell out millions on high-tech picker robots to get the job done right. Small changes, like combining orders into single travel units and keeping all picking operations at the ground level, can equal massive changes over time.
  • Optimize Slotting Operations — Slotting is the process of organizing your center’s inventory before it’s picked, processed and fulfilled. Like picking, optimizing your slotting efforts can bring massive returns with small and affordable changes. Even minor adjustments, like keeping your fastest moving items in the most accessible spots in the facility, can revolutionize the way you do business. Look at slotting as a science and follow best practices to ensure that items are fulfilled in a reasonable timeframe.

It’s All About Analytics

At the end of the day, you’ll only get so far in any fulfillment endeavor if you perform, test, measure and adjust as part of an agile, ever-evolving optimization strategy. But how do you make measurable changes if you don’t have the measurements to begin with? The very best thing you can do to constantly improve your processes is to track, track and track some more. With the right software and equipment, you’ll be able to closely monitor, measure and adapt based on past performance data. From there, closing efficiency gaps is easy!