A warehouse management system can function somewhat like a brain – communicating across an organization to keep things humming. With such a high-profile role, and in the midst of rapid technological and industry evolutions, selecting a system may seem overwhelming. This month, Material Handling Network spoke with experts about the latest developments regarding warehouse management systems and the best approaches for narrowing down what is right for each operation.
At Tompkins Solutions, Tom Singer recommended conducting a requirements-based selection process to identify a WMS solution tailored to unique needs and operations. “Factors such as operational complexity, order profiles, size, and industry type will all influence the WMS selection,” said Singer, Principal at Tompkins.
The company was founded in 1975 and is a leading supply chain consulting and material handling integration firm, specializing in network optimization, warehouse design and automation technology, according to Singer. He said that most WMS selection processes should incorporate the following: a prioritized list of functional and technical requirements, a request for proposal document, demonstration scenarios that require the vendors to show how they meet key requirements, and a manageable pool of pre-qualified vendors to evaluate.
In addition, Singer advised using a scoring framework to evaluate vendor responses and preparing reference check questions. He noted that detailing requirements is key, but the focus should be on the key differentiators that separate one WMS solution from another. “If you’ve done a good job at identifying a suitable vendor pool, the core WMS functions should be quite similar across solutions,” Singer said. “Spend your time during the demos looking at mission critical needs, and more complex and advanced functionalities.”
And a WMS selection should be treated as a project supported by a defined plan and a team fully capable of executing the plan, according to Singer. “The WMS marketplace is large and highly segmented by capabilities offered, industries supported and price points,” he said. “Knowing where your distribution operation fits within this space is key to a successful selection process.”
At Global Shop Solutions, Mike Melzer said the company’s objective is to not to try to out-think customers. “We listen to them and figure out what we need with our products and how to get better,” said Melzer, vice president of operations and service. “They use our system every day and they’ll tell us how to get better,” he said.
Global Shop Solutions offers enterprise resource planning software for manufacturing industries, according to the website. “Our ERP software provides the applications needed to deliver a quality part on time every time from quote to cash and everything in between,” the site said, noting the software is available in the cloud or on-premises.
In his 25 years at Global Shop Solutions, Melzer said he has seen many technological changes. “A shop that had 100 employees 20 years ago might have 30 today and be doing twice as much product as they were. It’s a different time,” he said. Melzer noted that production numbers overall are still higher than pre-pandemic and said Global Shop Solutions’ customers are typically looking for ways to improve efficiency.
This is something the company specializes in, according to Melzer, describing one scenario when a customer’s use of the solution allowed an employee to go from performing a task for eight hours a day to around four hours per week. “It freed up a whole employee. Now she can do other things to help the business be more efficient,” he said.
Many of Global Shop Solutions’ customers are small to mid-sized operations and Melzer said quite a few load the software and go. “85 percent of our customers are on our current version. That’s unheard of in the ERP world,” he said, noting bolt-on products are offered by the company as well.
One suggestion Melzer had for material handling operations evaluating WMS is to listen to ideas from younger workers. “These kids are smart. They grew up on phones. They’re used to it and everything’s easy for them,” he said.
Melzer said Global Shop Solutions continues to tweak its software products based on customer needs. “I travel once a month with our CEO, and we go out and talk to our customers. We’ll teach our customers and at the same time they’re teaching me,” he said.
In an era of technological evolution, Melzer said ideas for software development are flowing quickly. “Everybody is functioning in a real time environment right now,” he said, describing innovations like a customer using an inexpensive phone-like device to fill a need for handheld devices throughout the operation. “It works great,” he said.
Other widespread system developments include things like lot and heat traceability. “More and more industries are asking for it,” said Melzer, describing a lumber yard that tracks inventory carefully. “Every tree trunk out in their yard has an RFID tag so they can do an inventory. As soon as it comes in it gets debarked and it has an RFID reader on the front which issues it to a work order. Then it goes to the next step,” he said, noting the system saves what used to take an employee doing several hours’ worth of transactions.
Melzer envisions similar efficiency improvements and innovations to software continuing in the coming years. “It’s not going to end anytime soon,” he said. “People keep coming up with ideas.”
About the Author:
Eileen Mozinski Schmidt is a freelance writer and journalist based in the Greater Milwaukee area. She has written for print and online publications for the past 13 years. Email Networkeditorial@MHNetwork.com or visit eileenmozinskischmidt.wordpress.com to contact Eileen. If your company would like to be featured, email Networkeditorial@MHNetwork.com