The greatest challenge for contract logistics, and, therefore, also for warehouse management systems (WMS), is diversity. In this matter the logistics operator is more attuned to the receivers of the goods, i.e. the consumers, than to his customers. Each and every one of us is a master of logistics in his or her own household. Milk is kept in the refrigerator, screwdrivers are in the toolbox, paper towels are placed conveniently at hand, and bathroom cleaners are kept far away from children. While manufacturers of building materials are professionals in their field and confectioners are experts in regulations governing the production and storage of foodstuffs, a logistics operator has to have knowledge concerning everything.
A System Full of Functionalities
This fact raises the bar for warehouse management systems very high. The most important quality giving a Third Party Logistics company (3PL) the necessary basis for operating on the market is the wide range of functionalities of its warehousing system. With a single installation of a WMS the logistics operator must manage a warehouse storing food products for infants, where the control over batch numbers and systems for quality blocks are of prime importance, and cosmetics, where monitoring batches is not required, but hundreds of packages for recipients are prepared daily and timely dispatching is the most important. Specialized modules for managing hazardous products as well as goods subject to excise tax are needed. A broad range of functionalities available in a standard version of the WMS is the basis for the quick introduction of new customers. Functionalities, whose wide range of possible settings brings benefits for the operator, and, therefore, for his customers, include:
– Monitoring the point of placement of a product and optimization of the process,
– Coordination of the allocation and issuance of products in line with LIFO, FIFO, and FEFO principles
– Automatic generation of invoices and reports in line with defined principles.
Speed in Implementing Change
The second important challenge for logistics operators is flexibility and speed in implementation of changes. Being a service company, the operator must react quickly to the needs of customers. The potential for introducing a new customer with specific processes, sets of electronic communiqués, and reports over a period of not more than three months is often a prerequisite for signing a new contract. On the other hand, customers already being serviced within the framework of contracts often initiate changes and expect improved efficiency in processes. In this case, the possibility of rapid and flexible WMS configuration provides significant support for the logistics operator.
Security Is Critical
Being a logistics operator, a 3PL company registers a huge number of transactions each and every day. Every move of a pallet confirmed by warehouse staff through a radio terminal is registered, as is the case with every label printout, every update performed on an order header, and many other warehouse operations. Even 1,000 users may be logged on to single server at one time. Thus, the WMS must be efficient, stable, and highly secure. Loss of data on goods being stored means loss of credibility for the logistics operator.
On the Road to Optimization
The above system qualities provide the operator with a good tool to work with. However, competition on the market means that apart from the high quality of services, their optimizing is also important. For this reason, a good warehousing system should provide support for the logistics operator in achieving savings through optimum process planning and worker output monitoring. Additionally, strict integration with external systems – the customer’s system, for example – provides possibilities for reducing manual operations on both the operator’s side and that of the customer as well as improving the quality of data.
Everything Under Control
An important requirement is WMS conformity with standards, especially with the GS1 standard. An example is the unique identification of logistic units – shipping or warehousing – where Serial Shipping Container Code (SSCC) is used. The SSCC number is issued only once, when the given logistics unit is being formed. The GS1 label is provided with that code and is scanned during input into the WMS, which makes it possible to track movements of each shipping unit individually. For units picked in the 3PL warehouse, the WMS issues new SSCC numbers and prints GS1 labels, which makes it possible to continue tracking in line with the requirements of this world standard.
In the future, the possibility of integrating innovative technology will be increasingly important in the WMS. Even today, using voice picking or pick by light technology is becoming widespread in the industry. The automation of warehouses is becoming increasingly frequent as is the introduction of external equipment such as equipment for measuring and weighing new products, scanning gateways, self-binding printers, etc. into warehouse processes. The newest sphere of operations of many logistics operators is services for the e-commerce industry. The development of e-com processes is not possible without good solutions in the area of network services that make integration with e-commerce platforms and couriers possible.
Unifying the System
The market is evolving. New needs are making their appearance and expectations with respect to the WMS are continuously growing. As important as the stability and security of customer operations is the possibility of rapid reaction to change. At Raben Group we are presently finishing a global project implementing a unified warehouse management system at all our locations. We use the RedPrairie platform, one of the two leading warehouse management systems in the world. The continuous improvements of the system make it possible to optimize our in-house processes, which translates directly into benefits for our customers.
Co-author: Stephan Saenger,
Logistics Manager and Deputy Branch Manager, Raben Trans European Germany