The holiday season may be a time for family, friends and good food, but it is also the perfect time for warehouse managers to evaluate how just how efficient their picking practices are. The end of every year is when gift-giving and purchasing is at its peak, book-ended by Black Friday and the New Year sales. Unsurprisingly, that ramps up the pressure on warehouses across the country.
Warehouse operations are defined by how easy it is for employees to find the right items at the right times, even more so if that inventory is destined for retail distribution. Efficient picking and stacking practices then become crucial to the smooth running of not only the warehouse, but also its ability to deliver goods to customers in a timely fashion.
Conventional wisdom says that as long as products roll out on time, then the customer is (in theory) happy. This may have been the case 10 years ago, say, but the bar has been raised significantly in recent years thanks to the rise of ecommerce and the promise of next-day or even same-day delivery.
Warehouse Operations As Science
The billion-dollar question is how can companies make sure that their picking practices within a warehouse are up to speed. The simple answer is by integrating WMS solutions into work practices.
Key production and distribution processes, for example, rely heavily on assets being available when needed, so the warehouse should be set up to reflect where inventory is stored. Without stating the obvious, accurate asset tracking can reduce not only the time spent in locating an item but allow the company to optimize the performance of the warehouse itself.
It would be remiss not to talk about the elephant in the warehouse. Amazon has turned its warehouse operations into a science, thanks to its embrace of digital technologies that adapt to the needs of the warehouse itself. Much of Amazon's success is directly linked to both the evolution of the supply chain and its distribution practices, two pillars of warehouse management that allow the company to meet customer expectations on every level.
With that in mind, the so-called "Amazon Effect" will, as cited by Supply Chain Digital, spread to other industries besides retail as companies challenge their warehouse managers to innovate in the same way as Amazon. In essence, Amazon has changed the way that we think about warehouse management thanks to a focus on efficiency via software.
It should be noted that Amazon's digital business model is not easily replicated, but there is no reason why it should not inspire others to follow a similar path. For that reason alone, investment in the global WMS market is expected to experience a compound annual growth rate of around 14 percent over the next five years, breaking through the $3 billion barrier by 2023.
Taking Advantage Of The Connected Society
WMS technology can also do away with the sight of people strolling around a facility with a pen and paper. The connected society has increased our familiarity with digital delivery services and data collection to such an extent that we expect software to be available to augment our working life. Picking practices can benefit from this familiarity with a digital lifestyle through order sequencing, for example or even by grouping together the most frequently-ordered items.
Companies should also consider the life of a picker. An effective WMS-enhanced location reduces the amount of time that a picker spends, well, picking before items are packed, often using a pallet to group products together. The modern warehouse environment lends itself to automated picker options, all of which can be run and operated through WMS technology. That is not to say that the human element will be eliminated, rather that software can help to increase efficiency, promote safety and enhance the user experience.
Organizations that want to improve their picking practices should think about reaching out to F&A Data Systems. We work with acknowledged business leaders in software and hardware such as Dell, Microsoft and Oracle to design and integrate warehouse management systems that can transform the way you operate. For more details, contact us to learn more about how WMS software is the way forward.