Volume 14, Issue 2 - March 2013

Guest Column

Where’s My Stuff?

by Nick Carter

Many of you have probably read or at least heard about Spencer Johnson’s motivational book Who Moved My Cheese? It is a quick read with some terrific insights.

Look at the problem of the missing cheese from a different angle, however and you’ll see that if the little critters had installed a warehouse management system (WMS) they not only would have known each and every person that moved the cheese, but they would also have known the dates and times of the moves, where it was picked up from and put away, if it was used in production (a few slices went into that grilled cheese and a couple of others in the ham and cheese sandwiches), and ultimately where it finally ended up. They would even know if it had been broken down into smaller chunks and stored in multiple locations.

There are numerous reasons why a company should consider automating its warehouse functions (cheese tracking aside). Practically every company we talk with today is trying to accomplish the same amount of work with fewer people. The real world issues unfortunately are ever present; special items that are received in and get lost become very costly, cross training employees or bringing in new employees adds stress to an already tight time budget, hidden costs in the methods product is received, picked and put away, and the list goes on.

Fortunately there are ways to address this by having a system in place that automates most of these functions and creates a very efficient, cost reducing environment.

Here are a few of the benefits as described by one of our users of WMS:
• Picking errors reduced by 75 percent: By using barcode scanning, we can ensure inventory accuracy and verify in real-time that the correct items are sent to production.
• Picking times cut in half: Warehouse employees are directed to appropriate bin locations and no longer waste time manually searching for items.
• Enhanced information visibility: Item receipts and production picks are visible in real time, both from WMS and our ERP system. Project managers have a more accurate picture of inventory movements.
• Shorter production schedules: The lag time between item receipt and production has dropped by 60 percent.
• Training time reduced by 50 percent: Training time for new employees has dropped from 80 to 40 hours. Real-time, system-provided directions to appropriate warehouse bin and department locations have reduced the need for training.
• Better control of special order items: Now special order items are easily tracked from the receipt until they are ready for production and/or shipping. This saves very real money by eliminating the need to re-order and expedite for misplaced items.

Implementing WMS is no small task. If real estate’s three keys are location, location, location then WMS would most likely read: plan, plan, plan, train, train and train! The one constant we have seen is that when all departments are involved in the planning process and there is a serious training regimen, the total buy-in factor increases significantly. It is very rare to be in any type of implementation where there is not some resistance to change. The objective is to reduce that resistance as much as possible prior to flipping the switch.

We sometimes jokingly say that implementing WMS is akin to changing religions. On the serious side, you are making a wholesale change in how you will handle every piece of inventory from the time the trucks pull up and you unload, until the product is staged, loaded and the doors are closed. Bypassing the system cannot be allowed for it to function properly.

Once the decision to move forward is made, there are numerous things to get done and your WMS provider will guide you through the maze of site surveys, equipment needs, labeling of the warehouse for maximum efficiency, inventory identification, etc. (way too much to even try and cover here).

Studies consistently show the real gains in productivity, better customer service and (believe it or not) worker morale. WMS is not inexpensive, but when implemented properly more than justifies the investment. y

Nick Carter is president of WoodWare Systems, based in Cordova, Tenn.


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