Flexing and managing the 3 Ps with a WMS
Overall using a WMS helps to transform how the three key aspects of running a business warehouse - the 3 Ps - can be managed. People, products and processes.
The certainty that we all enjoyed in 2019 is long gone and these days, the only certainty we have right now is constant change. Everything is continually changing. It could be changes needed in the warehouse because there are not enough operatives on the ground, a change in processes because high business rate charges negatively impact selling strategies, or because you are having to manage the impacts of a fluctuating supply of raw materials.
All these issues point to the need for agility, being able to respond to ever changing trends and flex your workforce when needed. Here are three ways a Warehouse Management System (WMS) solution can help your business to achieve the extreme flexibility needed to cope with today’s changeable business environment.
Flexible warehouse layouts
We are all familiar with the concept of zone picking and having high throughput lines located throughout the warehouse for sales winners. Certain products need to be stored in convenient locations to be easily accessible. This does not just involve having them in an area nearest to the loading bay, but pinpointing the exact place that high volume items should be stored to minimise the physical impact on pickers and be easily accessible. Where should stock be positioned to make best use of operators and reduce the amount of wear and tear on their bodies during a busy day? Apparel warehouses provide a good example to illustrate this point. You might employ a racking infrastructure with various height levels and the best place to store a fast moving is at waist height, to avoid a picker having to bend down each time.
A WMS helps achieve this level of fine tuning by providing data to report against lines and picking locations that see the most traffic. Using data captured, it’s possible to generate a heat map of the warehouse to display busy zones and provide a detailed overview of volumes picked from each location. It’s then easy to generate the best possible pick walk sequences. In seasonal industries, heat maps will need to be reviewed every quarter at a minimum, to remain as efficient as possible.
Help to manage staffing issues
Warehouses that monitor productivity levels have been criticised in the past for being intrusive, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. In almost every workplace, people have targets and are monitored on performance, why should it be any different in the warehouse? Built into a WMS is an audit trail feature, which allows management to home in on worker performance trends, like a common source of picking errors, or a high incidence of non conformance with pre-defined rules. For example, WMS software could instruct an operator to go to a particular location and put a particular pallet away. The operator might decide not to follow the recommended instruction and use another location, but would have to override the system to complete the transaction. If that happens too frequently it could cause other problems but because the WMS captures the history of every operation, it is easy to investigate these exceptions and ensure the repeat behaviour does not adversely affect performance levels.
Another way a WMS helps manage staffing efficiency is the ease of onboarding new team members in your warehouse. With a WMS it can typically take just 30 minutes for a new starter to be fully functional and because WMS software guides them through tasks, newcomers only really need a rudimentary understanding of how a warehouse functions. Linked to this, the in-built reporting means that anyone needing top up training is easily spotted according to their error frequency levels. Mistakes happen in every warehouse and using the WMS database, it is possible to identify errors before shipments leave the 4 walls.
Multitude of stock management benefits
A WMS can also help flex when it comes to stock management, which is perhaps one of the most important benefits. Businesses make key decisions based on the accuracy of inventory figures and by automatically capturing every stock movement in real time, WMS users have robust inventory numbers that fully support decision making, whether it is by customer service or procurement departments.
Another stock management advantage arises from being able to store up to 30% more stock within the same total area, thanks to WMS software’s dynamic slotting capabilities. This identifies any surplus space within available locations and records where stock is left, to be collected as needed. Implementing a warehouse management system actually conserves space to such a high degree that it’s possible to sweat property assets for longer, resulting in lower capex and reduced business risk.
A WMS provides a detailed history of everything that took place in a warehouse – last week, last month, last season – to support decision making processes. It will document busy and slack times in detail allowing management to extrapolate trends and plan workload based on past performance and future growth expectations. A WMS can also provide an early warning of pinch points in the process, based on advance shipment notifications and expected delivery volumes. This means operatives can be fully prepared for large orders and can free up space accordingly. The detailed audit trail is an advantage and pre-requisite for food industry businesses who want to supply leading brands – supermarkets, hospitality businesses and other manufacturers. These types of customers expect excellence and require detailed reporting at very short notice – impossible to achieve using just paper based auditing.
Overall using a WMS helps to transform how the three key aspects of running a business warehouse – the 3 Ps – can be managed. People, products and processes. Consider that managing a warehouse is like baking a cake and a tasty cake is made up of three core elements, all in the right proportions. According to this analogy, a WMS is equivalent to having an advanced, programable cake mixer that brings everything together and records exactly what happened and when, with a watertight audit trail.