Everybody’s getting into the act. We’ve seen all the major catalog management systems become Internet-enabled. Now the warehouse management systems (WMS) are following suit. One of the more interesting of these is the Catalyst Warehouse Management System. With a Web-browser front end, a single installation can be accessed in multiple locations or by outside users, and provide more flexibility than a non-Web system can provide.
Catalyst’s users benefit from the greater control over labor and more accurate movement of inventory that a good WMS system can provide.
The only WMS vendor to be ISO 9001-certified, Catalyst has roughly 85 customers and 185 installations to date. Customers include such well known companies as Reebok, The Home Depot, Sony Music, Cooking.com, and Borders.com, to name a few. One customer of Catalyst processes upwards of 15,000 orders a day.
The company typically offers one major product release each year. The next scheduled release, due out early in 2001, will include a new quality-assurance module.
A big plus of the Catalyst system is that it is driven by a series of user-defined strategies that dictate everything from put-away and pick strategies to receiving, cross docking and replenishment.
Catalyst shows some real momentum in the direct-to-consumer vertical market. We believe that it is one of the top-tier packages for warehouse management among the hundreds on the market today.
Functions and features The system can be either Unix- or Windows NT-based. It does not integrate with the host system, but instead is interfaced to it.
Navigation within the system is similar to that of Windows Explorer in a pull-down folder view. Catalyst uses a standard API set for interfacing to host systems; there is generally little cost for interfacing to a host system unless the customer requires programming assistance.
To maximize flexibility, there are several user-defined fields available on most screens, including item master and wave selection screens. Pricing is processor-based, regardless of number of users or transactions.
The system is multilingual, and individual users within one facility can select different languages. The system has a GUI-browser-enabled user interface and can also handle RF emulation on a PC screen.
Receiving and quality control: The system supports both paperless and paper-based receiving by load, purchase order, ASN, or various other methods. Merchandise can be routed for immediate put-away or deferred to an inspection area automatically.
Stock putaway and replenishment: The system can be set up to suggest or direct putaway. Adjustments are controlled with tolerances and reason codes. Based on user needs, replenishment can be scheduled or automated. Putaway logic is based on cube of the product, pallet, or location. Cross-docking can be opportunistic, based on the day’s orders, or planned around an incoming shipment.
Cycle counting: The system supports real-time cycle counting. Any discrepancy over a pre-set tolerance will trigger a cycle count. Cycle counts can also be triggered by item velocity, count frequency, item, location, short picks, or various other methods. Adjustment reason codes are required and comments can be added.
Pack verification: The validation of completed picks for packing compares the actual quantities against the ordered quantities and updates the system in real time.
Returns: Returns processing has little or no interaction with the host system other than to signal that the returned order was received and the reason for the return. Disposition of stock passes through the interface to the host with inventory quantities and general ledger adjustments.
Radio frequency communication: The system interfaces with all major RF scanning equipment companies. Catalyst maintains a stockpile of RF guns to assist clients with seasonality, broken equipment, and replacements. The system has password log-on with multiple levels of security that allow management to determine which functions individuals can access. The system utilizes standard UCC 128 bar code for shipping and container codes.
Productivity measurement: The system has labor management and tracking functionality; it can capture and report on employee standards and productivity. There are graphical analysis tools available for managing order waves and productivity. Actual times are captured for all RF tasks and can be compared to actual standards or number of tasks in various reports.
Warehouse automation: Catalyst employs a module called the Warehouse Wizard, which is a GUI interactive tool used to automate the warehouse setup process. The system requires users to log in and out of the various warehouses or clients to capture activity. It can direct bulk picking of items based on the amount in the primary pick location.
The system has a strategy set-up function that defines the primary and secondary logic for all transactions. Strategies are user-defined and control storage locations and logic, picking location logic, and replenishment and putaway logic.
Order management: The system supports a standard download of orders from a host system through the use of established APIs. Order processing or wave templates can be built and saved, and waves can be kicked off manually or scheduled on the system. There are no standard order summary reports that show totals of various order types.
Wave planning and graphical analysis tools enable the users to deploy employees effectively. The system interfaces with either Clippership, Pitney Bowes, or Tandata for manifesting. Carriers can be selected based on customer requirements, due dates, or can be predefined by the host system.
Management reporting: The system comes with over 70 standard reports. It is also ODBC-compliant and supports a variety of third-party reporting packages such as Crystal Reports. Other tools can be employed if Oracle is chosen as the database. Report printing can be delayed or scheduled and reprints can be created when needed. All RF-based operations can be monitored graphically for workloads and performance.
Kitting and de-kitting: The system supports a multiple-level bill of materials and value-added processing. Kits can either be built in advance or picked on the fly depending on availability.
Work task interleaving: Most tasks in the system are supported by a task interleaving function. All tasks are driven by user definitions and can be ranked by task, age, or priority. The system can keep employees in specific aisles or zones or override these decisions based on priorities.
User comments Catalyst users have generally positive comments about the package and the support provided by the company. Users say that there have been instances of program errors in new product releases, but when these errors occur, they are prioritized and handled quickly by Catalyst personnel. All of the users that we spoke with would choose Catalyst again if they had it to do over.