As you plan your WMS budget, two main areas that get initial budget attention are user licenses and costs and professional service fees. But companies often underestimate the equipment requirements, server capacity and communication bandwidth. You may find equipment needs are larger and more complex than you thought to gain the most functionality from the WMS and any add-on modules.
Your ecommerce fulfillment center may already have barcode scanning, and maybe you assume without doing research that many of the devices will be useable, minimizing hardware costs. This will need to be validated with the WMS vendor to ensure compatibility. Some may need to invest in a new complement of scanners, batteries and backup. For most, after scanners, there are question marks.
Underestimating these costs can destroy your budget and cause you to go back to management for additional funding as the implementation proceeds. Sometimes settling for less equipment creates less than desirable workarounds or additional steps in the process. Not purchasing equipment might save money initially but add costs in labor over the long term.
Here is an 8-point checklist to help you make a more accurate WMS equipment budget:
Computing for End Users
Computers, tablets or handhelds are needed for different people to access the WMS. Directors, first-line managers and inventory control typically have offices or workstations on the floor. Small handheld devices may not suffice for WMS access and some applications and add-ons being purchased.
Look at all department functions and determine their input, printing, data display needs and which devices are best.
Consider all the various printing needs by department, from item-level barcodes to receiving worksheets, and peel and stick shipping labels. A new WMS may require different hardwired printers as opposed to a standard wifi connected unit. As with scanners, you will need to validate if any existing printers can work with the new WMS. If they are wifi based, can a network card be inserted?
The WMS team will need to determine the type of printer, the production output daily and peak hours, and the quantity of printers by department or users. All of these requirements and equipment needs will vary by facility and WMS application.
Wireless Access Points
Wireless access points are crucial. Without enough of them, there is no access to the WMS from handheld or truck-mounted devices. They keep all users and devices connected to the system to keep fulfillment running.
Many critical devices rely on wireless access. Utilize a third party that specializes in site surveys to properly determine the type and quantity of access points based on the number of users, transactions and facility characteristics.
Devices and Scanners
There are many different styles of handheld or wrist-mounted devices, scanners and tablets to access the WMS.
Your team will need to determine how many users, and if existing handhelds can be utilized with your new WMS. Consider how many spare units you will need in case of breakdown or a software issue, and if you need replaceable batteries in a multi-shift fulfillment center operation.
Don’t forget to budget for chargers, protective cases, holsters or slings, as well as maintenance programs to swap out damaged units. They are well worth the cost.
Truck Mounted Units
If you rely on forklift operators to complete put away and replenishment, a truck-mounted computer/device will be needed. They typically have a tethered or wireless scanner.
Pack Station Hardware
Will packers be doing a scan verification at the time of packing? If so, they will need a computer and scanner. If not, your pack station may not be in need of hardware. How many pack stations are needed, taking into account future growth? Are packing and manifesting done in the same step and station? How does this affect combined hardware needs? Is scan verification done with a fixed scanner or a Bluetooth scanner?
At the manifesting station, a computer, printer and scanner are all needed. Additionally, a scale will be needed, and it should connect to the network so that weights are auto-populated into the WMS. How many shipping stations are needed? Is your existing hardware compatible? Can you adequately test the hardware if you’re using it with the existing system? Should you invest in rolltop scales to improve ergonomics?
Additional Budgeting Considerations
Plan electrical and communication contractor fees into equipment budgeting. This really comes into play when considering wireless access points, electrical drops for packing and manifesting or other management work hubs.
Can you benefit from existing relationships between hardware and WMS providers? Often, discounts are available when bundling product purchasing or using a vendor that has a good relationship with the WMS vendor.
Lastly, don’t leave all of this to the IT department. The WMS and its equipment needs are as new to them as it is to you. Do the planning and budgeting as a team.
Probably the hardest factor to plan for the increase in volume during ecommerce peaks, especially seasonal. Take the time to do detailed planning, providing sufficient communication bandwidth and equipment access that won’t constrain productivity and order throughput. Software vendors may not sell the equipment, so that puts the onus on your staff.
Brian Barry is president of F. Curtis Barry & Company