For warehouse leaders, pursuing automation is one of the best decisions to make. Warehouse automation effectively boosts the return on investment (ROI) by decreasing labor demands, improving accuracy, and boosting efficiency. Warehouse automation also reduces costs and improves customer satisfaction by reducing mistakes due to human error. Yet, the vast majority of warehouses are run manually or have adopted the lowest levels of automation.
There are many ways that warehouses can go about becoming automated. In fact, warehouse operations such as picking, barcode labels and scanning, vehicles, inventory, and back-office processes can be automated. Whether your warehouse remains manual or you are looking for ways to increase your efficiency and productivity, our 50 expert warehouse automation tips and best practices will help you implement automation that will significantly improve your bottom line. Our tips come from leading warehouse management software providers, top warehouse executives and leaders, supply chain authorities, respected media sources, and other experts in the field. In the interests of helping you find the information you most need to automate your warehouse operations, we have categorized our tips and best practices and alphabetized them; thus, our 50 expert warehouse automation tips and best practices are not ranked or rated in any way.
- Barcodes and Scanning Tips and Best Practices
- Planning and Strategy Tips and Best Practices
- Tips and Best Practices for Using Robots/Robotics
- Tips for Leveraging Tools and Technology
- Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) Tips and Best Practices
Barcodes and Scanning Tips and Best Practices
1. Choose a barcoding solutions provider with experience in your industry. “Companies curious about barcoding solutions should reach out to a provider that has experience in their industry. A good software partner speaks to specific advantages and can work with a company’s implementation team. The tools shouldn’t completely replace existing procedures, but they should improve them through gradual adjustments.” – Nancy Master, 3 Warehouse Barcoding Implementation Best Practices, RFgen Software; Twitter: @RFgenSoftware
2. Create a job position to manage barcode inventory management. “Ваrсоdе systems mаnаgеmеnt іs аn аssеt mаnаgеmеnt sуstеm іn whісh іnvеntоrу іtеms аrе gіvеn bаrсоdеs thаt саn bе sсаnnеd. Іnfоrmаtіоn, suсh аs соunt, rесеіvіng dаtеs, аnd lосаtіоn thеn арреаrs оn а соmрutеr mоnіtоr.
Оnе оf thе bеst tірs fоr bаrсоdе іnvеntоrу mаnаgеmеnt іs tо сrеаtе а јоb роsіtіоn rеsроnsіblе sоlеlу fоr mаnаgіng thіs sуstеm. Ву сrеаtіng а роsіtіоn, suсh аs іnvеntоrу mаnаgеr, rеsроnsіblе fоr оvеrsееіng bаrсоdе іnvеntоrу mаnаgеmеnt, а busіnеss mаnаgеr саn сеntrаlіzе thе іnvеntоrу рrосеss.
Тhіs іs hеlрful fоr сrеаtіng а dаtаbаsе thаt іs оvеrsееn bу оnе рrоfеssіоnаl whо саn mаkе surе thаt аll dаtа іs сurrеnt аnd соnsіstеnt. Аn іnvеntоrу mаnаgеr іs аlsо аblе tо dеdісаtе hіs оr hеr tіmе tо mаnаgіng іnvеntоrу, аllоwіng оthеr wаrеhоusе wоrkеrs tо соnсеntrаtе оn оthеr іmроrtаnt dutіеs.” – Optimizing the Management of Your Barcode Systems, SupplyChain24/7; Twitter: @SupplyChain247
3. Decrease processing times with barcode scanners. “Using barcode scanners within the warehouse enables your staff to speed up order processing times as they will no longer be required to manually enter numbers. Seems pretty simple, doesn’t it? Barcode scanners also have the advantage of reducing the risks of injected errors, which drastically improves your perfect order rate as well. In this modern world, you should expect to source bluetooth barcode scanners, ensuring your staff don’t become tied down (or slowed down) by cords and wires.” – Justine Cross, Five Warehouse Automation and Technology Tips, ERP Focus; Twitter: @ERPfocus
4. Increase inventory accuracy with a barcode system. “Setting up a barcode system can dramatically increases your inventory accuracy. Having barcodes on your items makes them instantly readable to a computer paired with a scanner. It lets your computer do all the heavy lifting for you!
While computers aren’t perfect, they are significantly more accurate than any human ever could be. There are studies showing that even the best trained data-entry person will make at least one mistake every 250 keystrokes.
On the other hand, scanning barcodes with a computer has an error rate of one in every 5,000 to 36 trillion characters scanned.” – Matthew Kostanecki, Barcoding Your Stock is Easy, inFlow Inventory; Twitter: @inFlowInventory
5. Use fixed-position, camera-based scanners for 1D codes. “Interest in scanning technology for two-dimensional (2D) bar codes is on the rise. But oddly enough, the business driver in many cases isn’t the need to read 2D codes, but rather to improve on processes related to one-dimensional (1D) codes. The enabler for why things are playing out this way is the camera-based technology used in these scanners.
These camera-based scan engines can read both 2D and 1D codes, and by capturing an image, you have a digital picture that can be analyzed and used in different ways.
To read a 2D code, traditional laser based scanners won’t do the trick—camera-based scan engines are needed. These camera-based scanners hold multiple benefits, from the way they can make handheld scans less fatiguing, to fixed-position scanners with image-capture capabilities that can get at the root cause for read failures.” – Sarah, Warehouse/DC Operations: Data Capture is Ready For Its Close-Up, Logistics Management; Twitter: @LogisticsMgmt
6. Use handheld barcode scanners to fully automate warehouse data collection. “Inventory management becomes a huge (and unnecessary) headache without automation. Asset tracking systems completely streamline inventory management processes, simplify documentation, and maintain accuracy beyond what’s achievable through manual inventory control processes. Not to mention, it’s a huge time-saver. Businesses utilizing automatic identification and data capture (AIDC) asset tracking processes are able to reduce the frequency of manual inventory counts and save substantial man hours. Handheld barcode scanners are an excellent tool for fully automating data collection for inventory control, allowing staff to quickly scan supplies, parts, and equipment to maintain accuracy in your central database.” – Nicole Pontius, 5 Best Practices for Inventory Management That Apply to Any Business, Camcode; Twitter: @Camcode
Planning and Strategy Tips and Best Practices
7. Add automation to your warehouse though shipping software. “In the world of warehouse shipping, it’s essential to find the fastest, cheapest, smartest way to get products to customers. The more tasks you can automate through your shipping software, the more efficient your process can be.
Minimizing the number of decisions your employees need to make results in faster order processing, fewer errors and more control of the shipping process. This also makes it easier for seasonal or part-time workers to get up to speed by decreasing the learning curve associated with new software.” – 5 Great Tips to Automate Shipping Decisions in Your Warehouse, ShipWorks; Twitter: @ShipWorks
8. Be prepared for real-time inventory information. “In a typical manual warehouse, inventory data is always out of date. By the time a warehouse worker gets a pick ticket, retrieves the product, and manually enters the information into the manual inventory tracking system, the numbers are generally already inaccurate. With an automated system, however, there is no delay in updating the inventory management system. When a worker picks a product, that information is automatically instantly relayed to the WMS system and updated in real-time.” – Reid Curley, 6 Ways Automating Warehouse Systems Makes a Huge Impact, Archon Interactive; Twitter: @WaveTrak
9. Change lead times and increase delivery satisfaction with automation. “Another popular trend this year has been the initiative of implementing more automated technology into warehouse management. Operators are evaluating operational processes to determine the best areas where tasks can be automated with the use of automation, and then moving warehouse personnel to other key areas where their skills and talent can lessen the burden of fulfillment processes. Mobility technologies, data systems, conveyor belts and other automation and technology improvements can change lead times and increase delivery satisfaction.” – Denny Hammack, The Top 5 Warehouse Management Trends of 2015, Industrial Distribution; Twitter: @InDistwebsite
10. Evaluate your needs before choosing a warehouse automation system. “The biggest mistake a company can make with a warehouse automation system is…
Not associated with the implementation. It happens beforehand. Many companies do a very poor job of evaluating their needs and ensuring that the software has the functionality to satisfy their goals and objectives, both in the short and long terms. It’s imperative that companies, either through their internal resources or by use of outside consultants, spend time in advance of any decisions to evaluate current conditions, considerer improvements and determine if their ideal state can be supported by the software under consideration. If this hasn’t happened beforehand it’s safe bet that implementation will go awry.” – Lee Schwartz, as quoted in 8 Experts Share the Biggest Mistakes Made When Implementing Warehouse Automation Systems, Camcode; Twitter: @Camcode
11. Know how the system will support your logistics. “Rather than viewing your new automated warehouse system as a stand-alone entity, consider how it works in concert with the rest of the supply chain and logistical operations. By simply asking yourself, ‘What do we want to achieve with this project and how does this align with our logistics goals?” you can come up with a solid business case for the automation. ‘When you know what you want to attain with your logistics, you will also know the goals behind your automated materials handling system,’ says Jan van der Velden, marketing director of business parts and components for Vanderlande. Companies that ignore this step generally resort to using ROI as a sole project driver. ‘The ROI can be a good measure,’ van der Velden says, ‘but if it doesn’t support the prime goals you want to achieve as a company, then you’ll run into problems.'” – Bridget McCrea, 7 Steps to Take Before You Install an Automated Warehouse System, Modern Materials Handling; Twitter: @modernmhmag
12. Make data-based decisions. “…data capture that is automated along with analysis and action through automated systems also assists warehouse managers make decisions that are data-based. Warehouse management strategies established today should in fact use data to make improvements to slotting optimization practices so that warehouses can keep up with the changing demands of an omnichannel supply chain.” – 8 Principles to Establish a Cost Efficient Warehouse Management Strategy, Dovetail; Twitter: @DovetailSA
13. Operate your warehouse in sync to balance workers and automation. “Balancing workers with automation requires that the warehouse operate in sync. It is important to clearly define the roles and responsibilities of both human and machine and the ideal workflow of each contributor. The next step is to consider those ‘what if?’ scenarios. There are a number of ways that the warehouse becomes ‘out of sync,’ and it is necessary to have a contingency plan for the most common issues. For example, if items are unavailable to pick, the orders that are sorted will be short. What are the cost implications of this situation, and what will be the process to return to that ideal state?” – Steve Adams & Steve Pierce, Considering the Costs of Warehouse Automation, Manufacturing Business Technology; Twitter: @MBTwebsite
14. Optimize network inventory before automating. “Another set of risks associated with automation exists for companies that have done a poor job of optimizing across a network of warehouses. Before building a network of automated warehouses, companies should make sure they have good global visibility to deliveries and have worked closely with suppliers to reduce lead times and (just as importantly) lead time variability. You do not want to build ten automated warehouses only to discover you really only needed eight if only you had only done a better job of network inventory optimization.” – Steve Banker, Automated vs. Manual Warehouses: A Different Way of Thinking about ROI, Logistics Viewpoints; Twitter: @logisticsviewpt
15. Optimize piece and picking for the highest ROI. “According to the 2016 Warehouse Operations Survey, only 9% of DCs now handle only full pallets during outbound. Most DCs (46%) now handle a mixture of pallets, cases and split cases. While it still could be time-efficient to deliver pallet orders using traditional labor, it might not be so for cases and split cases. Therefore, many warehouses are turning to case conveyors and robotic picking arms for help. In general, many warehouses found that optimizing piece and case picking gave them the highest ROI.” – Marco Trottmann and Sam Zhang, The Trend Towards Warehouse Automation, Westernacher; Twitter: @Westernacher
16. Realign your capabilities to fit the changing warehouse demand profile. “Unfortunately, for the rest of the industry, Amazon is no longer selling the Kiva robots, renamed Amazon robots, to the industry. They are using all of their production internally.
However, there are competitors that have emerged to fill the void. And with the ongoing, rapid growth that e-commerce continues to place on existing fulfillment networks, these new solutions are emerging just in time. Warehouse technologies that support high volumes of small, multi-line orders are receiving great interest from practitioners as they realign their capabilities to fit the changing warehouse demand profile.” – Steve Banker, Robots In The Warehouse: It’s Not Just Amazon, Forbes; Twitter: @Forbes
17. Revisit automation options if they would not have worked for your warehouse in the past. “With the recent evolution of goods-to-person and robotic order fulfillment technology, your operation may be in a better position to incorporate these automated solutions now than in the past. In many cases, the implementation of automation to reduce or improve the leverage of labor is a key driver now. In addition, many new automated solutions can be obtained at a lower capital investment and be expanded as needed, which reduces the initial investment and improves the overall return on investment.” – Mike Futch, Rise of the Warehouse Robots, Material Handling & Logistics; Twitter: @MHLeditor
18. Take a holistic approach to warehouse automation. “One key principle is that you should NOT build your operational processes around your automated MHE systems, but instead take a PROCESS APPROACH and look at the automated processes as a way to address certain parts of the operation. It is dangerous to have a portion of the solution mandating/limiting the overall solution. In a warehouse context we need the support of a warehouse management system that can tie in larger and smaller MHE components when needed, and to coordinate that with mobile scanners and voice users and even manual processing. And – maybe most importantly – make them interchangeable!” – A Smart Approach to Warehouse Automation, Aptean; Twitter: @Aptean
19. Train your people to use all of your warehouse systems. “You can install the best state-of-the-art inventory management system on the market; however, there will always be the human element in your operations. Well-trained, well-prepared staff will go a long way to ensuring your warehouse keeps running along smoothly.
It is all about training the people who will be handling the inventory to deal with human errors. Your success in meeting the challenges of human error lies in ensuring that everyone knows how the system fits together and understanding how they can negatively or positively impact the results.” – Addressing Warehouse Operational Challenges through Warehouse Management Best Practices, TradeGecko; Twitter: @tradegecko
20. Train your staff for a smoother transition to an automated warehouse. “All change is met with some resistance, and when it comes to implementing warehouse automation, these changes may be met with trepidation as workers fear that their value will be displaced by automated machines and robots. Proper training and change management can help to smooth the process of change and ensure efficient operations.” – Nicole Pontius, The Complete Guide to Warehouse Automation, Camcode; Twitter: @Camcode
21. Upgrade to automated warehouses at the right time. “The optimal time to upgrade to a smarter and more automated warehouse is when a distribution center expands, relocates, or consolidates. Major installations can be disruptive to a functioning [distribution center] DC. E-commerce centers are leading the trend in upgrading to advanced [materials handling] MH equipment, but the rest of the distribution markets can watch and learn which integrations are most effective and adaptable to standard warehouse applications.” – Charlie Fiveash, Warehouse Automation: The Next Generation, Inbound Logistics; Twitter: @ILMagazine
22. Use automation to improve efficiency. “Contrary to popular opinion, the use of robotics and warehouse automation does not necessarily mean robots have taken over. Automation can run within the system, improving slotting practices too, and robots work to make employees’ jobs easier and more efficient.
For example, automated forklifts and carts eliminate the need to walk between picking bands, and workers are using this technology in tandem with their existing job duties. This example is not limited to picking. It continues and exists throughout, packaging, labeling, shipping and final distribution of products through a company’s logistics network.” – Adam Robinson, Warehouse Automation: Why Warehouse Workers Need Not Fear Automation or Robotics, Cerasis; Twitter: @Cerasis
Tips and Best Practices for Using Robots/Robotics
23. Automate operations using robotic solutions. “Automation has been integrated into distribution centers for some time now but has generally remained within the workflow sector. While this has been of great benefit, the ultimate goal of many companies is to fully automate their warehouses.
Warehouse robotics are slated to change the warehouse work culture even more as they are increasingly being brought to market. Robotic solutions would afford distribution centers the ability to automate their operations without having to make any major structural changes.” – Mariana Cid De Leon Ovalle, 5 Supply Chain Trends November 2017, BOSS Magazine; Twitter: @BOSSNewsNetwork
24. Begin maximizing warehouse space with robotics. “Last but not least, we come to maximizing space. This is a benefit that people don’t always equate with warehouse automation. In reality, however, it’s one of the biggest. Space is a finite resource, especially in warehousing and distribution facilities that are packed with all kinds of goods. They create an ongoing game of Tetris that becomes more difficult the more you grow.
Luckily for warehouses, automation helps maximize the space that they have. How does it do so? For one thing, most warehouse automation systems feature robots or other machines that handle product retrieval and storage. This means that you don’t need to send people off into the aisles which, in turn, eliminates the need for wide aisles that can accommodate bulky pallets and pallet jacks with a wide turning radius. Instead, automated warehouses feature special movable shelves that robots can move around, like goods on a pallet. However, they take up less space than a pallet, and the robots need less room to maneuver when moving them. All of this means that you can install your product shelves with smaller aisles, which creates more room for storage.” – Warehouse Automation: The Benefits and the Tech You Should Use, SelectHub; Twitter: @SelectHub
25. Reduce employee travel time and increase pick accuracy with autonomous mobile robots (AMRs). “Reports of employees being forced to walk 10 to 15 miles per shift may be exaggerated, but it’s not hard to imagine the efficiency savings in employee travel (as well as the satisfaction improvement) by allowing robots to ‘do the walking.’ And while robots with advanced pick and pack capabilities have yet to produce a foolproof automated picking and packing operation, this technology isn’t far off. Amazon, which pioneered the use of mobile robots in its U.S. facilities after acquiring Kiva, sponsors a global competition every year to identify and promote robotic technology to perform advanced pick processes.” – Don White, Warehouse Robotics: What’s Emerging and Where’s It Headed?, Supply & Demand Chain Executive; Twitter: @SDCExec
26. Use robotics to improve inbound and outbound logistics. “Another trend in automation involves robotics. By definition, robotics are the icons of automation. They perform functions at the request of a system or person, but more of today’s robotic systems are performing duties upon request from an order fulfillment system.
The order process automatically notifies robots in warehouses and triggers the flow of processes as seen in the opening example.” – Adam Robinson of Cerasis, guest contributor, Emerging Trends in Automation: What It Means to Supply Chains, Fronetics; Twitter: @Fronetics
27. Use robots to increase labor force productivity. “As companies continue to automate their warehouses, robotics offers a new opportunity to gain productivity and throughput improvements beyond the existing automation efforts.
‘Improvements made to robotics technology, both on the hardware and software sides, have improved the performance of robotics for warehouses,’ Santagate said. That helps to entice businesses to consider robotics as an option for labor augmentation, he said.” – Bob Violino, Automating the Warehouse: Robots Can Increase Productivity of Existing Labor Force, ZDNet; Twitter: @ZDNet
28. Use warehouse robotics in the supply chain. “Automation is already well-established in many distribution centres around the world, but for most, it is limited to workflow automation managed by increasingly advanced warehouse management systems.
While system-guided manual processes can make a considerable difference to warehouse efficiencies though, the value of full automation—perhaps the holy grail of distribution centre operation—is typically the preserve of corporate giants able to build purpose-designed automated warehouses, or to adapt older real estate for “lights-out” operation.
The situation is changing however, as more and more MHE manufacturers bring warehouse robotics to market. Robotic solutions offer the ability to introduce automation into DC operations without the need for major structural alterations.” – Rob O’Byrne, 6 Key Supply Chain and Logistics Trends to Watch in 2017, Logistics Bureau; Twitter: @LogisticsBureau
Tips for Leveraging Tools and Technology
29. Adopt advanced systems to cut costs and increase productivity. “Left with few options to cut costs and increase productivity, warehouse and distribution managers have embraced robotic automation in far greater numbers than other industries, with the exception of heavy manufacturing. In addition, the very broad range of warehouse automation tasks demands that managers adopt systems that are far more advanced, with respect to learning new tasks, identifying targets, and combining subroutines, than the typical manufacturing system.” – Full Warehouse Automation Is the Goal and the Opportunity for both Providers and Investors, Robotics Business Review; Twitter: @RoboticBusiness
30. Automate everything possible. “Utilize automation wherever possible. Use barcodes, RFID tags, NFC or whatever technology works best for your inventory mix so you always have accurate on-hand counts and locations. Barcode equipment is not an expensive choice — you can even use a mobile phone.” – Top 11 Warehouse Operations Best Practices, Westfalia Technologies, Inc.; Twitter: @WestfaliaUSA
31. Choose a warehouse execution solution to synchronize existing auomation assets. “While lack of coordination has always been a risk, favorable economic conditions tend to be more tolerant of inefficiency. Today’s volatile, accelerating business conditions, however, are putting new strain on margins and the agility to synch operations to fluctuating demand is critical to profitability—even survival. This requires more attention to the integrated execution of all system and human activity, which is what warehouse execution systems provide. Warehouse execution systems (WESs) have the connectivity necessary to reach into disparate automation systems, extract operational data and get it to the people who need it. They can help maximize return on investment in both material handling equipment and human resources.” – Chris Capshaw and Randy Marble, Warehouse Execution Systems Can Unlock the Potential of Automation Assets, Material Handling & Logistics; Twitter: @MHLeditor
32. Choose an inventory management software solution that automatically calculates based on customer buying trends. “Start using inventory management software. Stop using Excel to manage your inventory! Spreadsheets are time consuming and don’t always reflect accurate inventory levels. You should purchase software that will help you figure out how much inventory is on hand, and when to reorder. Good programs will automatically calculate this for you based on the buying trends of your customers. Inventory software helps you accomplish all of this in a fraction of the amount of time it would take to do it all by hand.” – Inventory Management Best Practices, Fishbowl Inventory; Twitter: @fishbowl
33. Consider automated guided vehicles (AGV). “Automated guided vehicles (AGVs) are another trend we are seeing more of inside automated warehouses. AGVs move items around warehouse facilities using magnets, lasers or vision for navigation. They also can follow wires or markers in the floor to move products efficiently around the warehouse. In 2012, Amazon acquired a robotics company called Kiva—and it currently uses 45,000 of these robots to automate picking and packaging processes inside larger warehouses.” – Cary Frame, 4 Top Trends in Warehouse Automation, Hynes Industries; Twitter: @HynesIndustries
34. Give employees access to real-time information. “What employees really gain through the use of mobile computers, smartphones and wearables—which can include everything from digital eyewear to ring scanners—is access to real-time information. Data is increasingly valuable in the warehouse and DC, especially as customer expectations escalate to include very short shipping turnaround times due to increasing competition form large e-tailers like Amazon. In warehouse and DC environments, conditions are ever-changing, so being able to consult with a WMS, on a moment’s notice, to determine if an order got out the door on time is beneficial.” – Carrie Mantey, Hardware that Helps Facilitate Hard Work, Supply & Demand Chain Executive; Twitter: @SDCExec
35. Integrate AS/RS with warehouse execution software. “One of the primary benefits of AS/RS is its ability to store product in a way that makes the most efficient use of available space, especially over the long term. By implementing AS/RS, an operation can automate their long-term storage of raw material or product and retrieve what they need when they need it.
By integrating the AS/RS with their Warehouse Execution Software (WES) they can intelligently auto-rotate stock as new product/materials are delivered so that older product is always used first, reducing waste and spoilage (especially when it comes to handling food or pharmaceuticals).” – Maxwell Ziegler, 4 Common Applications for AS/RS in Warehouses and DCs, Conveyco Technologies; Twitter: @Conveyco
36. Integrate data capture technology with your WMS and ERP. “Accurate data capture on the warehouse floor is the key to proper tracking and efficiency. Without accurate data, how can you identify problems and improve processing? Manual data capture tends to be is time consuming, inefficient, and inaccurate, and the manual input of this data into your ERP system leaves further room for inefficiency and error.
So what should you be doing to simplify and streamline your data capture?
Using technology like a warehouse management system can help you to quickly move products and process data, can help you save time and increase productivity, as well as reduce the margin for error.” – How to Simplify Data Capture on the Warehouse Floor, TransLution Software
37. Link inventory levels and accuracy. “Your inventory management system will deliver a large amount of data in regards to the way products are moving within the warehouse. If you have a complex system, you will find all this information to be more than overwhelming at times.
However, a simpler system is to analyze some specifics and find the results that you want rather than sift through endless data. With this idea, you can save a lot of money as it will eliminate additional shift orders and inventory. Although, it can be difficult to integrate if your company doesn’t have inventory tracking, but it can deliver great results in the end.” – 7 Best Practices for Inventory Management for Warehouses, Newcastle Systems; Twitter: @NewcastleSys
38. Use batch tracking. “Batch tracking is sometimes referred to as lot tracking, and it’s a process for efficiently tracing goods along the distribution chain using batch numbers.
A ‘batch’ refers to a particular set of goods that were produced together and which used the same materials.
Use an automatic batch tracking system in order to enter information about all the products within your batch – keeping that information at your fingertips if you need to access it quickly, as in the case of a product recall.” – 10 Inventory Management Best Practices for Improving Your Business, Dear Systems; Twitter: @DearInventory
39. Use the latest software to automate warehouse functions. “The single biggest task for warehouse executives is determining fleet deployment, to match fleet deployment with cargo based on loading capacities, fuel consumption, and more. Another critical task is monitoring fleet movement.
Automating these functions, by using the latest software to intelligently route different data sets and data streams, improves accuracy and leaves the managers free to focus on other things where their core competencies and interventions would be more productive. Such warehouse automation solutions improve the efficiency, accuracy, and velocity of warehouse operations multi-fold.” – Nashiya Salim, 5 Emerging Trends that Logistics Managers Cannot Afford to Ignore, Fingent; Twitter: @Fingent
Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) Tips and Best Practices
40. Choose a WMS with a user-friendly interface. “A WMS without a user-friendly interface will not allow your staff to maximize its capabilities. If the interface is confusing and difficult to understand, then this will surely slow warehouse processes – which is the opposite of what a WMS should be doing.
A good WMS interface should allow you to quickly access accurate warehouse quantity levels, locations of your inventory, picking and shipping data, and sales reports all within a few clicks. If the interface does not allow you to easily navigate through this kind of vital information, then that particular WMS is probably not worth your time.” – Aaron Mikel, How to Choose the Right Warehouse Management System, SkuVault; Twitter: @skuvault
41. Closely integrate automation with a warehouse management system (WMS). “The successful deployment of automation in the warehouse or distribution center environment relies on close integration with a warehouse management system (WMS) to help direct, simplify, and track all of the transactions going on in the facilities. Even without the addition of automation, a WMS enables trained warehouse staff to achieve fast and highly accurate shipments by choreographing the most efficient pick paths and prompting specific actions each step of the way during picking and/or prior to shipment.” – David Allais, Automation in the Warehouse: Asset or Obstacle?, IndustryWeek; Twitter: @IndustryWeek
42. Conduct WMS training. “By its very nature, a warehouse management system (WMS) is designed to improve business processes. So to be effective, your WMS training effort must address not just the hardware and software, but the many ways WMS users handle goods in the warehouse.
The time and effort needed for WMS training increases as you move up the scale from bare-bones inventory management and WMS modules to dedicated, high-end WMS software.” – David Essex, Getting Started with Warehouse Management System (WMS) Training, SearchERP; Twitter: @search_ERP
43. Consider a cloud and SaaS warehouse management system. “The benefits of cloud based WMS and a SaaS system is that they allow for fast deployment, no maintenance costs, and lower IT costs. A true SaaS or software as a service eliminates the upfront capital costs of buying hardware and finding data center space to house it and drastically reduce the need for system administration. A cloud-based WMS can be customized to meet your unique business needs and offers additional features such as higher data security protocols for businesses that handle higher value inventory. Both systems are tailored to fit various types and sizes of businesses. While the SaaS solution is better suited for smaller businesses with low complexities, a Cloud WMS is more ideal for medium to large size businesses as well as those with more complexities. Irrespective of the size of your business, you can benefit greatly from a WMS that increases business efficiency and productivity.” – Rachael Afolabi, WMS for the SMB: Factors to Consider When Implementing a Warehouse Management System, Net@Work; Twitter: @NetatWork_corp
44. Consider a warehouse control system instead of a warehouse management system. “The walls between warehouse control systems (WCS) and WMS are coming down, and the former is playing a larger role in the overall management of a warehouse’s inventory. This is particularly true for companies that are putting more automation into their warehouses and DCs, says [managing director at supply chain consultancy St. Once Co., Norm] Saenz.
Historically, WCS provided the interface for material handling systems (i.e., carousels, sorters, conveyors, etc.), while WMS managed processes, people, and activities like shipments and orders. ‘We’ve worked with numerous companies that were putting in new automation along with new WCS and looking at how to leverage their WCS investments for warehouse management functionality,’ says Saenz, who expects this trend to continue as the lines between WCS and WMS continue to blur.” – Bridget McCrea, Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) / Inventory Management Technology: 6 Trends for the Modern Age, Logistics Management; Twitter: @LogisticsMgmt
45. Evaulate the ease of installation and use when choosing a WMS. “The first thing that you need to look into when researching a WMS is its general ease of use. This also goes along with how fast it is to get up and running, how many resources will installation and initial launch require, and how lengthy will employee training be. SMEs want something that is going to installed and ready to go as fast as possible, with minimal training. The longer it takes to completely install a system, the longer it will take to catch up with the competition, and the longer precious resources will be focusing on the system rather than on business. A great system will require little to no training, even for those employees who are not necessarily tech-savvy, and will be extremely user-friendly. Easy menus and a clear dashboard, a tool that not only allows a company to rapidly optimize employee efficiency and time, but that also upgrades seamlessly across the company, and at an international level if needed.” – Isabelle Badoc, SMEs: The 4 Essential Tips for Choosing the Right WMS, Generix Group; Twitter: @GenerixGroupFR
46. Identify your key supply chain and warehouse metrics before selecting a WMS. “When you are selecting SCM and WMS ensure that the end goals of your business are identified and then measured by the system you choose. So often the best system for data entry is selected, which is admirable, but if you can’t get data/performance measures out the other end you’ve spent a lot of money for a black box you’ll struggle constantly to try and see the insides of. Be able to answer the question, “What 5 metrics will we run our supply chain or warehouse on?” with distinct items and plans to improve and sustain them over time.” – Ted Clark, as quoted in 45 WMS Selection Tips to Help You Find the Perfect Software, Explore WMS; Twitter: @ExploreWMS
47. Integrate your AS/RS and WMS solutions. “Integrate your AS/RS and WMS solutions. These two technologies work together, each increasing the usefulness of the other. With the right equipment in place, managing a warehouse becomes much simpler and it will be easier to meet your metrics for perfect orders, accuracy, efficiency, and productivity.
The easiest way to ensure seamless integration is to select an AS/RS and WMS that are designed to work together, so you eliminate the cost and hassle of integrating them yourself.” – 11 Warehouse Operations Best Practices, SupplyChain24/7; Twitter: @SupplyChain247
48. Start simply by implementing a warehouse management system (WMS). “Start out small. Implement a Warehouse Management System (WMS) that can help facilitate the major processes within the four walls of your warehouse. From the time the truck arrives, the WMS should be able to receive product in, intelligently put it away to stocking locations, and allow you to see what and where your inventory is in the building.
My friend, you now are in control!” – Mohammad Shaban, Your Path to an Automated Warehouse: 3 Things to Know, Bastian Solutions; Twitter: @BastianSolution
49. Understand all costs associated with a WMS. “Implementing a WMS incurs costs in a variety of ways. Software and hardware costs will be easy to predict and manage but you should also make sure you are clear about the consultancy costs. How much after sales support will your supplier provide, what will they be doing for you as part of that support and how much will additional consultancy cost?” – Top Tips for Choosing a Warehouse Management System, TouchPath; Twitter: @TouchPath
50. Understand the support costs, infrastructure, training, and implementation the WMS provider offers. “Do you own the system after buying it, or will it be software as a service? This is your decision, and every business has different drivers that you will need to consider carefully. With SAAS, you spread the cost over the full life of the product; with up-front, you will own the software and will only pay ongoing [optional] support costs.” – James Wilmer, Top Tips for Choosing a WMS, Logistex; Twitter: @logistexonline
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