WMS is the #1 most popular warehouse technology – here’s what you need to know

Are you considering investing in a Warehouse Management System (WMS)? If so, you are definitely not alone. According to leading IT publication, TechTarget, it is #1 of the 5 most popular warehouse technologies that have the potential to improve a warehouse’s productivity and cut costs.

Eric Carter, Indigo Software’s Solutions Architect has spent the last 20 years advising companies who want to implement a WMS and he shares ten of the most common questions that he gets asked to help inform your decision making.

What is a warehouse management system?

A WMS is a piece of software that is designed to support the daily running of your warehouse. With a best of breed WMS, it is possible to handle almost any logistical task from a single central interface, including monitoring inventory levels, tracking stock locations, and managing tasks and resources. If you want to streamline and optimise your operations, there is no better place to start than the warehouse. Businesses that invest in a good WMS can soon expect to become more efficient, less wasteful, and more profitable.

How does a WMS improve warehouse efficiency?

There are many ways a WMS improves efficiency because once installed it effectively controls the movement of items – raw materials / goods for shipping / packaging – everything required to fulfil the ultimate sales order from the moment goods arrive in the warehouse to when they leave for the final mile. This means you know exactly where all stock is, what your average dock to stock timeframe is, how much you have available, what orders need to be processed and by when and where they are destined for. It also allows you to make the people working in the warehouse more efficient by supporting them as they complete their tasks. This could be pinpointing them to the shortest route to find a stock item, telling them to replenish stock that is running low, or helping them to pick more items more quickly.

How have WMS systems changed over the last few years?

The key objective of a WMS is to automate basic warehouse processes so they are more efficient. This basic goal has not changed, but the different features that are now available have evolved. Whereas before a WMS would be supporting warehouses shipping large, bulk orders onto intermediaries and mainly dealing with business customers, many are now end customer facing.

They are responsible for shipping into people’s homes, acting as the face of a brand and they are also having to deal with a lot more returns coming back into the warehouse. These need to be processed quicky and WMS functionality has adapted to cater for these needs. A WMS is also now more likely to be integrated with other key business software systems rather than operating in isolation and it will offer information in real-time immediately as tasks are completed and sales data is captured.

How does a WMS compliment physical processes in the warehouse?

A WMS supports operators as they go about their daily workloads, giving them information in real-time, telling them what to pick and where to find it, supporting decision making, helping them work more swiftly so that more orders can be processed each day and very importantly, it removes any guess work so that errors are minimised. During the lockdowns, WMS software was keeping operatives safe by allowing areas (zones) in the warehouse to be assigned to individuals so they could practice social distancing and still keep to the order processing schedule.

Is there a role for robotics integrated with a WMS?

We are seeing lots of companies integrating robotics with their WMS so that operators have yet another level of support. The robots can take care of tasks that frequently create physical strain or RSI, by lightening the load, e.g. using robotic packing arms to save people having to handle heavy shipments.

How does a WMS provide improved visibility to warehouse operatives?

WMS software gives operatives a great deal of visibility and in real time. They can get a bird’s eye view of everything that is happening within the 4 walls of the warehouse – subject to access privileges. This helps them become more efficient, avoids wasting time and enables them to become more accountable and target orientated, which is a good thing.

Is a modern WMS easy to implement into the modern warehouse?

Provided the supplier has properly scoped the project and done all the preparatory work to understand the businesses and existing warehouse processes, the implementation should be relatively straightforward. There is a big benefit to finding a vendor that has relevant vertical industry experience as they can apply this knowledge to your implementation and offer many additional efficiency improvements.

How does a WMS affect costs?

Using a WMS will lower costs because a warehouse will typically be able to increase throughput by a large margin without having to increase headcount. It will mean the warehouse is less likely to need temporary workers during peak periods and we often see customers able to scale the business quite significantly with the same core team of operatives. The other way a WMS reduces costs is by removing errors – we usually say it checks quality into a process from the outset rather than the business having to reactively perform quality checks at the end. This saves a lot of time and money, plus it means customers are happier.

What does the future of WMS look like?

A natural progression for WMS software will be to incorporate more integrations with sensors and automated devices, using Internet of Things (IoT) capabilities. Whilst sortation devices are expensive they can remove enormous amounts of time when goods are being processed through the returns stages, they are also making huge inroads into volume picking processes. Once warehouses start to implement 5G coverage, the WMS will have more scope to perform AI functionality and to predict when bottlenecks could occur. We are also expecting WMS software in the future to start to incorporate digital twin capabilities, to allow for advanced modelling and prediction analysis. And as more technology comes into the warehouse, there will likely be more cross over with other systems, like the TMS and maintenance systems.

How do I go about sourcing the right WMS for my business?

Look for a software specialist that can show they understand your business. Indigo Software has spent the last 40 years helping manufacturers, retailers and distribution specialists to optimise their warehouses using technology. We have experience of many different vertical markets from fine foods to pharma and from high fashion to heating. Having a software partner that understands your business sector means you will have the opportunity to increase the potential benefits of investing in technology by simultaneously implementing an overhaul of key warehouse processes at the same time.

Learn more about Indigo Software at www.indigo.co.uk

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