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Distribution Software - Warehouse Management
Back in the dark old days of materials resource planning (MRP), planning the raw materials requirements for manufacturing environments was cutting edge technology. Then they added scheduling and capacity planning logic and MRPll was born. MRPll evolved into enterprise resource planning (ERP), with the added benefits of full financials and customer and vendor management functionality (VMF.)

Warehouse management systems (WMS) followed a similar path. It began as a system for controlling the movement and storage of materials in warehouses. Now, WMS is expanding to light manufacturing, transportation management, order management, and turnkey accounting systems.

Currently, there is some debate over whether or not WMS should evolve into a warehouse-based ERP system. The danger is that this will increase the level of confusion among companies who are searching for software solutions for their operations. However, WMS should not be thought of as the be-all and end-all of warehouse optimization. Many other simpler and less costly solutions can be implemented to streamline operations.

For instance, employee training is much cheaper than WMS, and offers the largest return on investment of any money poured into a warehouse. Failure to invest in employee training can result in poor quality, low productivity, safety problems, low morale, stressed supervisors and managers and a general lack of control.

Tools are another investment that a warehouse manager can make that will have a significant impact on operations. Having a sufficient number of tools on hand, labeled and stored in a standardized location can prevent employees from wasting labor hours wandering around looking for hammers or tape dispensers. Since small tools such as calculators and wrenches tend to disappear into employees pockets, these items are best viewed as consumables and it's wise to keep an extra supply on hand. These can also be checked in and out to make sure they are not abused.

There are also lots of low-cost equipment that can increase productivity. Safety Lift tables, portable flex conveyors, drum handling equipment, and pallet dollies are some examples. At workstations where employees are stationed, make sure that everything is within arm's length and that furniture and body movements are as ergonomic as possible to assist employees and to reduce the number of potential worker's compensation claims.

Other issues include regular equipment maintenance; employees should be trained and encouraged to notice and immediately report any potential safety issues, such as water leaking onto a slick floor (a trip hazard.) Also, cooling is important, especially in warm climates. Productivity can take a nosedive when a warehouse gets hot. Strategically placed ceiling and portable floor fans can make a huge difference in the comfort, safety, and productivity of employees..

Clean housekeeping also can play an important role in the prevention of accidents, disease, and maintenance of employee morale. No employee or manager wants to work in a filthy place. It's also important to have proper identification of tools and equipment and easy to fill out forms. Finally, a well-managed storage system and procedures can play a role in fostering an efficient warehouse. The benefits of these things are that they improve efficiency, cut costs, and generally cost very little to implement. Some of these processes, in fact, may be free, yet they can have an enormous impact on operations.

In summary, investing in a competent, capable WMS that suits the needs of the company is fine and can provide ROI, but don't neglect the little things that cost pennies but save dollars.

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