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WMS Considerations

WMS System Considerations:

Warehouse Management Systems WMS ConsiderationsAfter considering the cost and ongoing maintenance and support requirements, you'll have to spend a fair amount of time figuring out how you're going to define your "Locations" and "SKU's". Since the major benefit of WMS is the labor saving associated with the movement of items, every system has a variety of options for how those movements are directed. In other words, what the system tells the employee to do, but not before you tell the WMS what rules to use.  The amount of time this will take will vary on the physical size of your warehouse, variety of your storage locations and the diversity and complexity of your item mix. Let's start by looking at Location schemes:

Location Schemes (Location Logic):

WMS Location SchemesSince the operations of moving items in the warehouse - from receipt, to stocking, to location / item consolidation to shipment (internal or external) - is the keystone of why you'd want a WMS, you'll have to pick a location logic that the system will use for how items are put in and taken out of locations. WMS systems offer a variety of location logics, and you may be using one of them in your manual system today. Below are a sampling of location logic schemes and sequences:

  • Location Sequence - you define a "path" or flow through your warehouse that represents the most efficient way to access all locations. The WMS then sequences pulling product from locations from one end of the warehouse to the other, ending in the location where product is shipped to the customer. When putting product away, the WMS selects the first location available where the item will fit from the receiving area. Subsequent put-aways are along the sequence from the receiving area to the start of the location sequence.
  • FIFO (First In, First Out) - Directs picking from locations where the items have been stocked the longest. This method is commonly used so that stock is rotated and you don't end up having items that are 10 years old as the only stock left to ship.
  • Fixed Locations - Allows storage of certain items only in certain locations. For example, all of item "1234" are always stored in bins "AX27" and "BZ3Y"
  • Reserved Locations - You predetermine specific location to pick or put. Reserved Location logic is used extensively in cross-docking, where you specify certain amounts of an in-bound shipment to be moved to an outbound staging area or waiting outbound trailer.
  • Pick to Clear - Directs picking from locations with the smallest quantities on hand, as to maximize warehouse space utilization
  • Lot Sequence - Uses the lot number or lot date to determine the location to pick items from.
  • Cube Size Put-Away - Uses unit dimensions to calculate cubic volume of the item, box or pallet of items, and compares it to the cubic volume of the location to determine how much will fit in that location. Although always touted as a major selling point of a WMS, Cube Logic rarely works as anticipated, since it assumes that item package size and allowable stacking heights will be constant. Unfortunately, in the real world this is rarely the case.

The list above is not complete or definitive. Its meant to get you thinking about how you want the WMS to direct the picks and put-aways, and to define a logic for either what you're doing now, or what you'd like to do. Once you have an idea about how you want the WMS to direct activities, you can make sure that the system you're evaluating has the location logic capability that you need. A good software consultant will be able to tour your warehouse, view your current process and make appropriate recommendations.

Entering Item Information:

WMS Item InformationJust as it needs detailed information about Locations, the WMS requires the same level of detail about the Items or SKU's that will be stored in those locations. Here is a partial list of the Item characteristics that may be required by your WMS:

  • Exact Item, Box and Skid package dimensions and weights
  • Unit of Measure for each way an item is stocked
  • Whether it can be stored with other items in a common location
  • If the Item (or one of its higher packaging methods) is rackable and if it is, the maximum stack height
  • Whether the Item is Finished Goods or Raw Material
  • Hazard Classifications
  • Whether the Item has Lot or Date control requirements

Although the information required for items are extensive and its entry in the WMS at the item level is a lot of effort, there is a work-around that saves a lot of time. In most cases, you can set up groups or categories of similar items based on the required criterion. For example,  you can designate a category called "Finished Goods", then when you set up the item you can just select it as being part of that category. Once the WMS is set up, the categories and groups are used in executing the Location Scheme and directing movements within the warehouse.

Another shortcut is the ability to import data from worksheets, text files and other file formats in the enterprise. Most often, preparation of this data file is relatively easy, but be aware that there will be unique information (ie. preferred locations for the item and item characteristics) that you will have to enter that is unique to the WMS. You can either import the item information you have without the unique data and edit the items afterwards using the WMS program screens, or you can enter the data in the file before the import.

Next, learn about WMS barcode data collection .