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Warehouse Management Software
Old-fashioned warehouses that are not automated have been a source of headaches and frustrations for years. In many of these companies inefficiencies abound; it's not unusual for employees to spend a third of their workday fixing the previous day's mistakes, which adds up to a huge non-value-added labor cost. Warehouse automation and management software can help these companies get their acts together. This software must be combined with process changes. However, transitioning to a paperless warehouse using warehouse management software, bar coding and radio frequency (RF) scanners doesn't happen overnight. If the warehouse is not properly prepared for such a change, automations efforts will fail because employees won't be able to locate items. Warehouse preparation can take up to six months, but the benefit is a smoother transition to an automated system.

In order to effectively transition, the company should formulate a plan that addresses two key issues: basic housekeeping and receiving products. The former involves organizing, labeling, cleaning and counting. The latter has to do with the integration of manufacturers' bar codes and the labeling of items with those codes. After the plan has been made, a bar coding system must be put in place, and provisions made for items which may arrive with no bar codes, since warehouse automation requires all inventory items to be bar coded. If items arrive with no bar codes on them, employees can carry labels with them or generate them from a nearby printer.

Once the bar code system is in place, warehouse personnel can use hand-held RF scanners to scan bar codes and verify items received against specific purchase orders (PO's.) A fully automated system also allows for the scanning of boxes inside which items are placed, and tracks the location of each box. The benefit to implementing an automated, paperless warehouse is a very dramatic increase in productivity. RF tracks each pick every day, for each employee, as well as the zone the item was picked from. This reduces the potential for bottlenecks. Another advantage is a significant reduction in counter wait time for customers. Customer satisfaction increases, too, when customers waiting for orders to be filled are able to watch the status of their order, pick by pick, on a viewing screen.

RF tracking also reduces uncertainty about the actual status of inventory. Many companies are relieved to find that they can trust the numbers they're seeing. Other advantages include automation of the receiving process, accurate management of receiving expectations, cycle counting during business hours, and extremely high quality assurance during picking. But perhaps the biggest plus is the measure of control and instantaneous answers that an automated warehouse brings. In order to successfully implement such a system, the warehouse must be cleaned, organized and streamlined. Then receiving and put-away can take place, with bar codes applied. After that, RF is used to provide better quality control and prevent problems.

Warehouse personnel will also need training as the picking system changes from the older, less efficient individual order picking in which one person fills an entire order to wave picking where an order is simultaneously filled by several pickers working in different zones. Scanning the items with RF prevents mix-ups. The training process can initially be costly, but the long-term benefits to the warehouse can typically be well worth the investment in training.

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