Software systems range from very simple systems that can be made fully functional in a day to those that require very careful planning and a year or more to get working. As an operations manager, you need to select a solution that is manageable and that your staff and your company’s departmental resources can readily support.
To help you get insight into the relative complexities I have included a simple risk ranking for five warehouse systems. The ranking begins at “negligible,” meaning that implementation of the system carries a minimal, if any, risk.
1) Cubic measurement system: easy implementation/negligible risk
A cubic measurement system is designed to partially automate the labor in measuring products in your warehouse. Cubic data can help you in a number of ways in planning storage and order processing strategies. Until recently, only one company made a cubic measurement device; today there are several. These devices permit an operator to place a box or an object on a measuring platform and have the dimensions of that object recorded into a database automatically. Data can be copied or imported into an existing database, as long as the proper dimension fields are available.
2) Documentation management system (DMS): moderate time for implementation/negligible risk
A document management system provides a mechanism for organizing and storing training and documentation for warehouse operations so that the information can readily be retrieved when needed. The beauty of a Web-based set of documentation is that anyone with a Web terminal can access it, and updates can be made in a single location. Modern DMS systems often use Web-based access via a hierarchical menu covering all DC functions. If you have someone inhouse who is handy with Web tools, such a system can be developed completely inhouse. If not, many companies are available to help you deploy such a system.
3) Labor management system: moderate time for implementation/negligible risk
Labor management systems can help you keep track of what is happening in your DC on an area-by-area, shift-by-shift, and person-by-person basis. These systems keep track of individual performance by tracking when tasks are started and completed. Systems can also track how much nonproductive time each employee has during a period of time. Weekly and monthly trends can be shown in summary form and used by managers to assess both functional-area and individual-employee performances over time. Systems can be interfaced to a real-time productivity display, providing statistics on the current state of order processing, including orders pending, orders completed, and individual productivity rates. A labor management system is sometimes included as part of a warehouse management system.
4) Stock locator system: moderate time for implementation/low risk
A stock locator system is the simplest of all stock management systems. Think of it as a file box with product location information. The advantage of a computer-based system is that locations can be barcoded, so that moves can then be verified and confirmed with a barcode scanner. The simplest stock locator records location only and does not try to manage inventory quantities (other than when a location becomes empty). Stock locator systems can be quite simple and relatively inexpensive, but the simplest systems do require good discipline on the part of your inventory personnel to avoid errors.
5) Order execution system: moderate time for implementation/medium risk
Order execution systems focus on one thing and one thing only: getting items picked on the warehouse floor. Order execution systems include pick to light, voice-directed picking, some radio-frequency scanner-based systems, and automatic storage and retrieval systems. These systems accept electronic versions of individual order pick lists and help human operators to execute the picks, passing back information on completed picks and exceptions to the host computer. Because of their single-minded focus, these systems can be deployed more quickly, with less risk than more sophisticated systems such as a warehouse management system.
Sam Flanders is president of Durham, NH-based consultancy Warehouse Management Consultants (www.2wmc.com).
Previous articles by Sam Flanders: