10 Tips for Warehouse Management System Implementation

Faced with leaner budgets, many merchants are looking for high-impact, low-cost ways to improve productivity. But one of the most effective ways to accomplish this goal may be by updating something many merchants already have—a warehouse management system (WMS).

Warehouse management systems are complicated and labor-intensive to implement, with long timelines and few dates available for go live. As a result, merchants often decide to take their implementations live with only the essentials in place and a long list of “nice-to-have” functionality deferred until later.

Deferring key elements of the WMS implementation can leave much of the promised ROI on the table, hence the need for what I call WMS implementation 2.0. This is a purposeful, comprehensive effort to identify the key elements that were left on the bench during the original implementation, and rapidly design, develop, test and implement them to unlock new value from WMS.

Here are my top 10 items that typically miss the cut for the first go live and can add tremendous value when implemented later.

1. Labor management systems
When purchasing a WMS suite, companies often include the vendor’s LMS module, planning to implement it at some point in time after the WMS is live. If the WMS has been up for a year or more, that time may be now.

A well-engineered labor standards program driven by an LMS can routinely drive savings of up to 20% in DC labor throughout the facility. By including an incentive program, that number can often be improved to 30% or more. Of the items on the list, this one requires the most effort, but also offers the greatest reward.

2. Task interleaving
In its simplest form, task interleaving involves having each lift operator alternate between putaway and picking/pulling tasks that are physically closest to each other, greatly reducing empty “deadhead” travel and getting more productive work done with fewer people and machines.

If a retailer only has bandwidth for one additional implementation, this is often the item to add because it can improve productivity of the interleaved operation by up to 30%, cutting cost and increasing throughput.

Task interleaving can also be configured to include a variety of other tasks, including cycle count, audit and empty pallet removal.

3. Slotting/correct assortment of pick location types and sizes
Most tier-one WMS include or make available a slotting module that integrates with RF-directed tasks to relocate product to more appropriate types of pick locations in response to changes in the cubic velocity of SKUs.

Correct and frequently updated slotting plans increase pick density and efficiency while streamlining replenishment, resulting in significant increases in productivity.

But sometimes, the best slot is no slot at all. Relocating very slow movers out of the active pick area frees up space and improves pick density.

The WMS can be leveraged to dynamically assign a temporary pick face for these items. Similarly, dynamic picking can be used to handle sudden spikes in demand that happen too quickly for slotting programs to accommodate.

The profile of orders that an operation fulfills will dictate the correct assortment of pick location types and sizes. Consider how many full pallet, case pick, flow-rack, shelf or other pick locations exist, along with the range of pick location sizes. Did analysis of order profiles drive the decision to have that assortment of pick locations types and sizes? Is the current assortment well suited to the needs of the business?

The range of opportunity is wide here, but fixing poor slotting can cut up to 20% of picking labor.

4. Label-distribution kiosks
In the rush to go paperless, retailers sometimes forget that certain business imperatives dictate label or packing list distribution to pickers. In large operations, this has often meant that all pickers line up at a central control desk to receive their labels.

Not only does this require pickers to return to the desk after each assignment, it can result in avoidable lost productivity waiting in line, a coordination nightmare for clerks handling mountains of paperwork and of course, the extra headcount of those clerks themselves.

Leading retailers are getting around this by stationing several PC-and-printer combos throughout the pick area and letting each picker scan their ID to print the appropriate labels for their pick assignment. This eliminates the need for clericals to staff the label desk and reduces travel and congestion for order pickers.

5. Wave balancing and sizing
The goal of wave management is to balance replenishment and picking in such a way that neither part of the operation runs out of work or has to wait on the other to finish.

Although execution can be daunting, the result—a balanced operation and a reasonable number of waves per day, which cut the downtime of pick and replenishment staffs—is well worth the effort.

6. Optimized in-wave replenishment quantities and trigger points
Despite the crucial nature of replenishment, it rarely gets the attention it deserves. Different types of product, based on size, velocity and the type of pick location (single pallet vs. flow rack, for instance) demand tailored replenishment configurations.

Pickers arriving to empty locations or stock overflowing a location are good indicators that something is amiss, and using analysis to determine optimal in-wave replenishment levels can help eliminate these problems.

7. Voice Picking
RF picking works great in many warehouse operations, but some others will show a marked improvement in productivity with voice picking. Prime candidates for voice picking include situations that require workers to use both hands—like when dealing with heavy or large products–or when workers have to wear gloves when handling products such as frozen foods.

8. Off-peak or lean-time replenishment
By electing to replenish only during the wave (in line with picking), something close to a “double pick” can occur.

Not only does this have implications for productivity, it can directly affect the operation’s speed in flowing orders out the door during peak operating hours before carriers pick up at the end of day. Sometimes it’s worth topping off your pick locations overnight to speed order-to-ship time during a warehouse’s busiest hours.

9. Visual management
Linking wave status inquiries, task completion inquiries and other work-tracking screens to large display screens installed on the warehouse floor allows managers and associates to spend more time on the floor to quickly assess progress. Updated SOPs and job aids such as wearable shortcut guides allow users to confidently and accurately perform work in cross-functional areas outside their normal department.

10. Putaway and pick zone optimization
Often, sub-optimal configurations are not obvious until after go-live. The originally specified zones sometimes result in unwanted congestion or unnecessary travel.

While the operation can still get shipments out the door, real productivity gains often go unrealized. In addition, those who implemented with user-directed putaway often find efficiency and throughput improvements by turning on system-directed putaway.

Jon Watschke is a supply chain strategist at management consultancy Kurt Salmon.

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