Saturday 1st Oct 2016 - Logistics Manager

The brains within

It’s a no-brainer – practically everyone needs a warehouse management system.  But, has the time come to go down the pay as you go route?
Jessica Davies is on the case

No longer is it a system whose sole purpose is to control the movement and storage of materials within a warehouse. Rather, its role has adapted to the complexities of modern distribution, and as such, is accountable just as much for what goes on outside a hub as what happens within its walls.

Directed picking, put-away and replenishment are still core to a warehouse management system’s make-up, but now transport, order, labour management and even accounting, are becoming typical features.

There are even WMSs being developed which operate on a purely transactional basis – in other words – pay as you go. Savoye is in the process of developing such a system, which it is tailoring towards small to medium sized companies, that can’t necessarily afford to pay for an entire system.

Savoye’s Martin Elliot, who describes the traditional WMS as “old hat”, says that focus is now geared towards off-the-shelf packages that are rich in functionality. One such example is that a system can actually determine which carrier and which transport route is best to take once product leaves the hub.

Elliot also points to the added invoicing and billing capabilities as being particularly popular among third party logistics providers. All functionalities don’t have to be used all at once, parts can be switched on or off as and when they’re needed. “It’s like having additional items in the sweetie shop,” says Elliot.

The larger the company, the bigger and more complex the warehouse management system. Elliot points out that, as a result, vendors must be on standby for some time after the final implementation, to ensure staff are comfortable with the changeover.

Dematic’s Simon Barnwell reckons “technology is only part of the answer” when it comes to boosting productivity, and coping with the competitive pressures of a global market, on top of the increasing pressure to cut supply chain costs.

He says that getting the best return on an investment is equally reliant on how the workforce is “managed, motivated and deployed”, and that integrating labour management software with a WMS can “provide employers with a powerful and cost-effective means of responding to it”.

The modern distribution centre is a dynamic and complex operation. High throughputs, demanding response targets, increasing numbers of SKUs, a more diverse array of order profiles, and frequent changes in the business model are all typical characteristics, he says. Added to that, inventories must be kept to a minimum, and cross-docking is becoming an increasingly important part of many sites.

Operations must take into account requirements further along the supply chain, including optimising vehicle use, and providing retail outlets with store-friendly deliveries that cut the time taken by in-store staff to replenish displays.