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Warehouse Management Systems Direct Labor Savings

Warehouse Management Systems are designed to execute the proper and efficiency flow of inventory along with warehouse procedures to reach a streamlined supply chain.   A large component improvement with this technology is gains in cost as it relates to labor. Labor productivity improvements can range from 20-30%. Labor is generally classified in three areas

  1. Direct,
  2. Indirect and
  3. Administrative.

This article focuses on direct labor savings achieved through Warehouse Management Systems or WMS

It is reasonable to expect up to a 20% improvement in direct labor productivity. Direct labor is better utilized due primarily to a WMS’s ability to provide specific task assignments based from a concise picture of inventory availability, inventory positions, and the overall movement activities to be accomplished. System directed activities minimize operators time spent identifying what actions need to be accomplished and planning the activities once they have been identified. The below key areas of warehouse activity focus on savings reached through WMS software functionality.  The sum total has the potential for dramatic labor cost savings.

Receiving: Generally, labor requirements in receiving stay the same for direct material handling but are eliminated for clerical activities. Efficiency in down-stream warehouse activities depend on the receiving process to capture and record accurate data. At startup, efforts should be made to ensure data integrity.

Once a system has been in use for 6 – 12 months, potential improvements in receiving labor productivity should be reviewed. As an example, you could use a wave receiving process to receive multiple purchase orders simultaneously and see improvement in both receiving labor productivity and dock utilization.

Put-a-way: Activities can be combined with the receiving process to minimize material hand-offs and staging or put-away can be performed as a separate activity to expedite the turn-around of trailers and improve dock utilization. In either case the WMS’s ability to identify appropriate put-a-way locations and direct the operator to the location will minimize an operator’s time spent searching for available storage locations.

Replenishment: In a forward pick/reserve storage environment, wait time for replenishment can be eliminated if replenishment activities can be managed by the WMS. In a system directed environment, forward pick locations are triggered to automatically generate replenishment commands based on inventory threshold levels. Replenishment activities are then performed in advance of pick operators being dispatched. This offers a significant savings potential if the amount of time pick operators spend waiting for material to be replenished can be quantified. Additionally, delays in the order picking process potentially lengthen the overall order delivery cycle time.

Picking: A majority of the labor savings is typically found in order picking which accounts for at least 50% of the labor costs. In general you should be able to practically eliminate time spent searching for lost inventory and improve pick labor productivity.

Picking improvements can be accomplished in several ways: Orders can be grouped to allow picking of multiple orders on one pass through the warehouse. The type of pick process you use is driven by cost, handling characteristics, and order profile.

Being able to match the right pick process to the order profile will result in improvements.  To understand your order profiles , consider analyzing 6 to 12 months’ worth of order history and develop a table or order distribution graph similar to this chart for your operations. Then begin to think about how you can manage to each order type.

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How WMS Software Can Save Money for your Company

Warehouse Technology Systems, commonly called Warehouse Management Systems (WMS), are designed to make the movement of inventory in and out of the warehouse as efficient as possible. Through advanced functionality such as different inventory picking options, lot and serial management, cycle counting, bin placement,  space management, ERP to WMS integration and others; warehouse management improvements can be realized that can offer significant savings from having increase accuracy, fewer errors and reduce labor cost.

Increased Accuracy-If the physical inventory “on the books” and the physical inventory in a warehouse do not match, the situation is often chaotic. When a warehouse picker goes to retrieve a part and it is not there (or not enough is there), a series of manual checks and back tracking must be completed to fix the problem and get the order out the door. Inaccurate inventory results can have broad consequences including:Savings

  • Poor buying practices and excess safety stock associated to buyers lack of confidence in record accuracy
  • Delays in order fulfillment associated to lost or misplaced product
  • Lost sales due to stock outs and over commitments
  • Costs associated to placing and managing back orders
  • Lower labor productivity associated to searching for lost product
  • Potentially higher freight costs resulting from expediting shipments to customers

Example: These issues could result in excess inventory, which ties up capital and negatively impacts capacity. The results are higher costs, low productivity and bad customer service. The self-checking nature of a WMS, in addition to a good cycle counting program, ensures inventory accuracy of 99.9%. This high level of inventory accuracy is the foundation for a majority of the other benefits realized in using a WMS. Inventory may be the highest asset in your company.  What is the financial impact of 95% inventory accuracy compared to 99.9% over the course of a month or year?

Fewer Errors-A real-time Radio Frequency (RF), ie. Hand Held Bar Code Scanning driven WMS is self-checking. As transactions occur, the system verifies the activity and may even prompt the user with a question if the system detects a potential problem. In a paper-based environment, errors are common across all functional areas. The impact of an error in one function is amplified throughout the overall operation. An error in receiving (wrong product number, wrong quantity, etc.) will create potential delays across many operations.

Example: Let’s assume 20 cases of part A are received as 200 cases, a put-a-way operator may spend considerable time searching for the extra 180 cases. In a non-automated environment, it is common to have operators putting away whatever product is in a staging queue without checking product numbers or quantities. In this instance, the
quantity error in receiving will get pushed even further downstream as operators are sent to pick 40 cases from the
load with only 20 cases physically on hand. Also, if an automatic payment correction is generated, you may end up requesting approval for payment of an additional 180 ghost cases.

In a paper based manual data entry environment, there is also an increased chance of data entry error. Humans make mistakes; WMS doesn’t. Studies have shown, on average, one out of every 300 keystrokes is an error. The cost of even one such error can be significant.

Example: What would be the effect of a missed product of some value, such as the cost of miss shipping a piano to Albany, Oregon, instead of Albany, New York, could easily run in the thousands of dollars. And, this does not take into account the added cost in damaged customer relations. The automated data collection nature of an advanced WMS results in process efficiency and data integrity. The benefits of data integrity are numerous.

Reduced Labor Cost-By eliminating manual data entry, associated fixed labor costs are immediately reduced. These reductions alone can justify an investment in automated data collection which is a key component of WMS. But other labor costs are reduced as well.

Example: Administrative labor is reduced as less time is spent correcting errors. Fewer errors and timelier, accurate information also mean fewer, more productive meetings for managers and executives. In general, automated data collection lowers labor costs by reducing overall setups, idle time, cost of expediting, and time spent correcting errors.

Example: It is reasonable to expect up to a 20% improvement in direct labor productivity. Direct labor is better utilized due primarily to a WMS’s ability to provide specific task assignments based from a concise picture of inventory availability, inventory positions, and the overall movement activities to be accomplished. System directed activities minimize operators time spent identifying what actions need to be accomplished and planning the activities once they have been identified.

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Warehouse Management Systems Guide

When evaluating different technology for better supply chain optimization, a Warehouse Management Systems Guide can help answer questions regard functionality, expected benefits and return on investment. A successful Warehouse Management System (WMS) implementation can provide a quick ROI, serve as a foundation for instituting a continuous improvement culture and facilitates on-going annual benefits, plus greatly increase the efficiency of flow of goods in and out of the warehouse.  For some companies, justification in a WMS is a matter of survival. Having the right material available at the right place and at the right time is no longer enough. In today’s economy potential requirements include:

  • Compliance LabelingBeautiful and happy female boss in warehouse
  • Floor Ready Displays
  • Advanced Ship Notices (ASN)
  • Postponement
  • Light manufacturing
  • Collaboration
  • Unique Customer Demands
  • And More!

Leading companies are realizing information has a specific shelf life value that diminishes over time, often by the hour or minute. Many of the processes and activities being managed and monitored by Supply Chain Event Management (SCEM) applications relate directly to warehouse operations. As the focus on SCEM applications continues to grow, the need for real-time activity tracking and inventory visibility offered by a WMS becomes even more critical to your organization.

Regardless of your perceived need for a WMS, an effective campaign to procure and implement a new system could depend on a solid business case. A good business case will include both tangible quantitative dollar justifications and the qualitative, intangible benefits difficult to enumerate. This paper introduces a tool to use when developing a project justification, identifies benefit categories for potential inclusion in the business case, and discusses areas of opportunity within the various benefit categories

A sound business case is critical to obtaining the management and employee support so important to a successful system implementation. The business case will consist of two components;

1) A Financial Business Case

2) Narrative explaining the assumptions behind justification estimates and providing an accurate picture of the intangible benefits.

A business case is a cost/benefit analysis aligning the project goals, costs, and risks to the company’s business objectives and financial expectations. The bottom line, the value of the benefits over the life of the project, normally 3-5 years, should exceed the total investment of the project over the same planning horizon.

This detailed guide will review both the tangible and intangible benefits associated with Warehouse Management Systems in addition to Return On Investment (ROI) financial considerations:

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Ways Warehouse Management Systems Increase Inventory Accuracy

The proper movement of inventory in a warehouse is increasing becoming very complicated as there are more demands from your customers and volume.  As more and more transactions occur, so does the odds for errors.  Errors with inventory picking, packing or shipping always equate to loss revenue, increased labor cost and potentially unhappy or lost customers.

Wholesale Distribution organizations frequently turn to technology to solve this supply chain management challenge to keep errors at an absolute minimum through a high inventory transaction accuracy level.  Such a technology exist with Warehouse Management Systems (WMS), which are designed to ensure the highest level of inventory accuracy and efficient inventory flow through the use of advanced inventory tracking software and systems.  Below are some examples of ways warehouse management technology can increase accuracy:Warehouse Man with Scanner

1. Product Codes:  Whether you chose RFID or barcoding as a means of identifying various products, product coding greatly adds to warehouse accuracy. Pickers and packers can simply scan the items they are looking for to fill an order and immediately known if they are correct. This contributes to less accidental switches and confusion when picking and packing order.

2. Product Location:  Using a WMS solution to help design your warehouse for efficiency will help your pickers know exactly where they need to go for a product location. This reduces misplacement of items. In addition, pick times are lessened when items are arranged so that quick turnover products are close to packing and slow moving inventory is placed in lower traffic areas of the warehouse.

3. Inventory Management:  Having exact product codes and locations greatly improve the quality of the inventory data your company has for inventory management. Knowing exactly how many items are in exactly which bins, to be placed in exactly which orders, can aid in managing stock-outs, misplacements, mis-shipments and even potential theft within the warehouse. With better inventory visibility, orders can be sent faster without back-orders and costs can be cut by less inventory loss.

4. Filling Orders:  Knowing exactly where a product is in a warehouse and knowing how many are left in the bin help pickers fill orders faster. Packing can be expedited with fast-moving products closer to packing locations. In addition, scanning products help to get the orders filled correctly the first time and almost completely eliminate returns due to picking and packing mistakes.

5. Bin Replenishment:  With product data made available by scanning, bin replenishment can be made easy. The system keeps track of how many items are in each bin and slot and can be programmed with rules so that certain product numbers never drop below a certain amount. This removes the guessing from the reordering of inventory and the back-order problem when there are not enough items to fill a customer’s order.

6.  Big Retailer EDI:  When supplying products to a large retailer, it is important to provide them with correctly labeled items that will be read by the retailer’s computer system. Having incorrectly formatted labeling or no Advance Shipment Notice can result in the return of the order and a charge-back for that returned order. With product codes and inventory tracking in conjunction with EDI capabilities, order accuracy can be increased to 99.9%.

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