A Warehouse Management System (WMS) is a software intended for companies that deal with production, inventory, and employees with different skillsets and duties. This software solution offers visibility into the entire inventory of a business and helps manage supply chain fulfillment operations – from the distribution center to the store.
The functionality of a WMS can be divided into three main categories:
- Inventory management
- Work execution
- Analysis and reporting
Nowadays, there is a wide range of options for WMS solutions that can be custom-fit to streamline warehouse and distribution operations of any business (regardless of the industry or sector in which they operate).
What Does a WMS Do?
When first invented and put to use, warehouse management software had simple functions, usually only storage location information. Today, the functionality of WMS varies greatly – from the basic pick, pack, and ship practices to more complex programs coordinating advanced interactions with material-handling devices. With a WMS in place, the likelihood of errors that could happen (when a package is shipped) gets reduced, allowing the organization to fulfill orders quickly and trace ordered products within the warehouse instantaneously. Ultimately, WMS software’s main goal is to automatically direct your staff on the optimal receiving, picking, putaway, and shipping of goods.
- Contributes to an organized inventory management
Furthermore, a WMS decreases space and labor waste, helping an enterprise lower its operating cost. Thanks to a good WMS, employees can view where a specific inventory item is located at any given time and location. By using RFID tags, barcoding, and serial numbers, inventory tracking can be improved even more. All these tracking tools contribute to building an organized and streamlined inventory management functionality that can fully optimize both internal and external inventory transportation.
- Removes the need for inventory counts
To make sure that all inventory is where it should be and in the expected condition, conducting regular inventory counts is required (and it is an integral part of running an efficient warehouse). Regular inventory count is a time-consuming task that increases your warehouse downtime. With a warehouse management system in place, you will perform counts less often, without sacrificing quality or accuracy. Depending on the complexity and size of your warehouse, you could completely replace your weekly/monthly inventory counts for periodic cycle counts that you can cross-check against the system. This can reduce costly labor expenses and free up much of your employees’ valuable time.
- Managing supply chain operations
Besides managing inventory, a warehouse management system can help manage supply chain operations. It can help you track products and materials from the wholesaler or manufacturer to the distributor or retailer, monitor expiration dates, and perform cycle counting.
There are various ways of implementing a WMS – as a standalone application, used by itself or in combination with other tools, or as part of an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system.
- Streamlining your customer service procedures
Fragmenting communications between the warehouse and customer service department is one of the most common mistakes that planners and managers make. That typically ends up wasting everybody’s time and causing distractions because messages need to go through several parties or departments before they reach the right person.
With a WMS that offers transparency and access for the customer service department, both customer service and warehouse departments are able to track orders, shipping procedures, customer feedback, and fulfillment times – all through one system and in real-time. That automatically reduces the likelihood of human error, confusion, and time-wasters that generally occur when it comes to meeting customers’ needs.
Common Features of WMS Systems
Features that are common to warehouse management system software include:
- Inventory control and tracking
The latest warehouse management systems often include inventory tracking features that enable employees to maintain the inventory count frequency with just a scan of a barcode reader or the click of a button. They are built with accuracy in mind, which is why they incorporate advanced tracking systems, such as barcode scanning, AIDC (Automatic Identification and Data Capture), and RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification) systems, to make sure that items can be found easily.
- Labor management
The labor management feature of WMS helps managers measure their staff’s performance by tracking KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) that highlight whether workers are performing below or above standards. Reporting on completed work is an excellent way to get organized, but the real value of a labor management system is the ability to look ahead. What was previously used to shine a light on the worst performers or reward top performers can now be used to make sure the right employees are in place for maximum efficiency.
- Receiving and putaway
This feature allows inventory putaway and retrieval with pick-to-voice or pick-to-light technology that helps warehouse staff locate inventory items.
- Picking, packing, and shipping
The warehouse management system enables batch picking, wave picking, and zone picking. The staff can also benefit from task interleaving and zoning functions to guide the pick-and-pack operations in the most efficient manner. The picking and shipping feature enables the warehouse management system to generate packing lists and invoices for the shipment, send a B/L (bill-of-lading) ahead of the shipment, and send advance shipments notifications.
- Reporting and analytics
The software helps warehouse managers with data capture and analysis, which enables them to determine the performance of warehouse operations. That allows them to find areas they could improve. The reports a warehouse manager needs to run include bulk picking reports, direct/indirect labor reports, vendor/supplier reports, shipments by the customer, history of suppliers, empty bin reports, ARNs (Advanced Receipt Notice), cycle counts, and inventory on hand.
- Yard and dock management
It assists drivers coming into the warehouse to locate the right docks for loading/unloading. Cross-docking is a more complex use of the yard and dock management feature.
- Warehouse design
This feature enables enterprises to customize their warehouse order picking logic and workflow to ensure that the warehouse is designed for optimal inventory allocation. The warehouse management system also establishes bin slotting that accounts for variances in seasonal inventory and maximizes storage space.
One of the most important benefits of utilizing a WMS is being able to look at data in new ways and get actionable insights from it. Is your warehouse under-utilized or over-utilized? Should you find a smaller warehouse space or expand your warehouse? Can you reduce headcount? How many transactions are each staff member doing per hour? Is your pick path set up as efficiently as possible for your pickers?
Implementing a warehouse management system can improve responsiveness and flexibility, reduce labor costs, decrease the likelihood of human error in picking/shipping goods, improve warehouse inventory accuracy, and improve overall customer service.
If you need assistance with making your supply chain more resilient and sustainable, Redbird Logistics Services can be your third-party logistics partner and help you boost your warehouse productivity and efficiency. Reach out to us today!