WMS Technology Part Three - Vertical Properties of the Warehouse Solution
on Sep 7, 2010
Warehouse Management Systems should be selected based on your industry. Here are some industrty-specific requirements and what's available from various WMS vendors.
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Cold Storage, FDA approval, Multi-channel, Hazardous Chemicals – has your warehouse got any of these? Beyond the normal pick pack and ship, bar-coding and simple receiving functions, supporting these environments and these products requires unique capabilities, software, equipment, and various techniques, controls and standards. We asked our warehouse players how they supported these environments. As expected, there were some boasts and some unsubstantiated claims, but some providers deeply understood what was required to support the challenges associated with industry-specific warehouse functions.
Hot and Cold!
A variety of industries require temperature-controlled, monitoring environments. Food, often Pharmaceuticals, some Chemicals, come to mind. From farm to fork, from lab to life saving, we want our product to have high quality. It requires several functions to assure this. (You can read our report, Cold Chains are Hot for much more on this topic). Each product has storage temperature and humidity requirements, special handling and expiration to name a few attributes. That data needs to be stored in your systems and your storage requirements to reflect that need.
In addition, produce requires capturing catch weights, due the variable/size weight of many produce products. Fresh produce requires high velocity putaway and pick—the inbound and the outbound often happen in a matter of hours. Locations are highly flexible but precise location is critical. (See this You Tube on the Dutch Flower Market for example.)
Often the inbound process requires an inspection station, checking things such as lot, batch, serial tracking, physical quality, authenticity, etc. before it is put away (and to maintain this information for inventory control and for subsequent orders). This, for the warehouse manager, is important to assure they receive only quality items, since they might be liable for damage or spoilage later on. In addition, their pick and pack needs to assure they are pulling product for shipment that has the proper expirations/sell-by dates. If not, what is the proper disposal method? These issues are critical and trackable events in the FDA/Pharmaceutical warehouse.
Storing candy with a buildup for the Halloween and holiday seasons means keeping the entire warehouse monitored, not just the refrigerators.
Here our concerns may be temperature sensitivity, but in addition, handling and location schemes in the warehouse matter. I need to assure the product is stored in the controlled locations (often with controlled access). I can assign labor (are they trained for such a task?) and track who accesses these areas and that the right type of handling, packing and protections are used. Again, how is my software ranking in these areas?
Like all these categories, the variety of customer situations is highly variable. A warehouse can be a stockroom in the back of the store, a high velocity manufacturing warehouse to ship to the retailer, or a fulfillment center to support ecommerce, and so on.
I may be looking, therefore, for a very tight connection to the ecommerce front-end, actually scheduling the customer expected delivery date from the web, and then executing the pick, pack, ship. Or even more advanced capabilities that we like to call Demand Coordination allow the WMS shelf level visibility through the channel, so I can trigger replenishment.
So, let’s look at some of the responses we got from WMS vendors in our research. We had ten solutions evaluated at this time, but we are showing only a few examples below that highlight the interesting responses. We vetted and edited the comments of the solution providers, and for this article we removed the names. We are publishing a report on the findings of our WMS research soon. The report includes the full side-by-side comparison of the players in the market and their capabilities.
The answers were numerous, but for collectively presenting a nice way to see the nuances and glean from these a ‘full set of requirements,” we have boiled it down to the table above. Labeling and packaging varies highly (as well as the data that needs to be printed on labels) and basic bar-coding won’t do in these environments. If the solution's database doesn’t have these, it can’t meet your needs. There are many industry nuances of concern to users; our goal was to highlight some of these to alert the buyer to ask for what you need.
Next week in Part Four, we continue this discussion on Warehouse Management software and provide insights on how these solutions help manage Returns and Recalls.
For more Warehouse Management technology topics in this series see: