A warehouse management system (WMS) is a software application that supports a warehouse, distribution center, or stockroom in the moving and storage of materials into, within, and out of the facility for purposes of inventory control. The front end supply chain supplies the materials moving into the warehouse, from the operational perspective this is receiving. The back end distribution channels handle the moving out of materials which is referred to as shipping. Common transactions in a system include material receiving, putaway, picking, and shipping.
A warehouse management system today is part of Supply Chain Management (SCM) and demand management, and can fall under the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) umbrella. For the scope of this blog article we’ll generally keep within the confines of the four walls though, knowing that a WMS can be much wider and go beyond the physical boundaries. Inventory control, inventory planning, cost management, container storage, loading and unloading are all related to today’s warehouse management system functions.
A WMS relies on a couple of basic operational building blocks which allows for keeping track of inventory by location:
- Stock Keeping Units (SKUs) identify the materials and may additionally have useful attributes such as weight, dimensions, Unit of Measure (U/M), Cost, Price, and so on.
- Warehouse locations identify places within the warehouse, manufacturing facility, or distribution center where SKUs are stored, even temporarily. Common locations refer to the Rack-Shelf-Bin stocking locations but can be dock doors, staging areas, work in process (WIP) areas, staging areas, quarantine, quality assurance (QA), quality control (QC), and so on.
Advanced WMS functionality can deal with labor productivity rates, order planning, directed putaway, directed picking, wave picking, and other complex operational and functional capabilities that may be specific to business entities or industries.
The ongoing nature of SKUs moving into, within, and out of a warehouse presents a constant need to report on inventory levels which is what a perpetual inventory system provides. The touch points for updating the WMS with what is moving where and why is often enabled by barcodes and fixed or handheld barcode readers. In the most basic scenario both the SKUs and the warehouse locations have barcodes on or near them so that workers can scan the barcodes allowing quick and error-free identification.
Automated material handling (conveyors and sortation) and storage equipment (carousels and robots) are certainly at the high end of implementation. Meanwhile, carts and forklifts are the mainstay of material movement which lends itself to the use of mobile barcode scanning devices and the corresponding mobile software running on them. The WMS mobile application running on a mobile barcode scanner or ruggedized smartphone is optimized for the mobile user and the specific tasks they need to accomplish.
Our Passport WMS inventory system is flexible and configurable for efficient day to day barcode transactions, and allowing management to make informed, real-time decisions based on your data whenever and wherever you need it. We’d be happy to discuss any topics you have regarding your requirements or our solution.