Smoothing the Way
By Bob Ingram
Increasingly sophisticated warehouse management systems are adding supply chain savings to the bottom line.
Today's retail food warehouse operations are no longer a matter of head 'em up, move 'em out.
Chuck Fuerst, director of product strategy at Minneapolis-based HighJump Software – whose title says much about today's warehouse management systems (WMS) – neatly encapsulates the prevalent philosophy: "In short, the supply chain is no longer a controlled entity within the four walls of a warehouse, and so a WMS must be a network that effectively links and manages resources across facilities in many cities and countries. This includes suppliers, partners and customers, each with a different role within the supply chain and each one operating as a hub in the movement of goods and the flow of information throughout it."
Greater visibility across the entire supply chain for today's companies, Fuerst adds, is driven by strong competitive pressures and the need to improve on-time delivery and reduce lead times, reduce working capital and manage variable costs more effectively, update customer or product availability and shipment status, and track and trace products throughout the entire supply chain.
At Atlanta-based Manhattan Associates, Eric Lamphier, senior director of product management, views recent innovations in WMS thusly: "We have seen significant market interest in deploying tablet-based mobility options in warehousing environments. Recent advancements in ruggedized tablets, touch-optimized user interface capabilities, and the desire to increase the mobility of supervisors without sacrificing their visibility and systems access have created an appetite for new solutions. Data visualization, charting, alerting and color-coding are prevalent in the modern, user experience-focused screens."
Head in the Cloud
Today's WMS should be able to create a full genealogy of every product, tying batch numbers, full attributes capabilities, and other data to the appropriate finished products, as well as to the production order or demand signal. Advanced traceability, genealogy and recall management tools will help customers navigate a recall event.
"Software as a service," or SaaS, uses the cloud for the installation and deployment of the software on professionally managed computer hardware, but takes away the majority of the headaches associated with software implementation, by wrapping up the configuration and implementation services into the monthly subscription, explains Gavin Clark, chief commercial officer at Snapfulfill SaaS WMS, provided by Synergy North America, based in Charleston, S.C., and Schaumburg, Ill.
"Snapfulfill takes this process to the next level," Clark says, "by also including all of the RF [radio frequency] hardware and supporting network as well."
"Sometimes, the SLAs provided by the cloud providers are not sufficient to guarantee the requirements for running production applications on the cloud, especially related to the availability, performance and scalability," Fuerst continues. "In most cases, enterprises get refunded for the amount of time the service was down, but most of the SLAs don't cover business loss."
Lamphier says his company drives cost savings and efficiencies through a mixture of rapid flowthrough workflows for select products and assortments, combined with core order fulfillment processes that are well structured from a space utilization and travel path perspective.
"Flowthrough distribution is ideal for fresh products that have extremely limited shelf life," he observes. "Cross-docking and put-to-store order processing are advanced mechanisms that we use to speed product from receiving to outbound shipments within minutes instead of hours. Our solutions carefully assign picking requirements to pallets and users in order to save time and travel while maintaining process expectations. Lastly, we have real-time integration with engineered labor standards and voice recognition, which are popular and proven tools in the retail food industry."
Fuerst says his company's software has an extremely flexible and adaptable WMS that includes rapid upgrades that the customer can perform, sometimes in less than a day.
"The HighJump distributed order management solution (DOM) enables orders to be optimally sourced from multiple warehouse locations and supplier sites to increase supply network flexibility and efficiency," he says. "A DOM provides real-time visibility to current inventory across extended supply networks, and it also factors in expected vendor receipts and production schedules on a date-sensitive basis to allocate future inventory based on customer ship dates."
Another HighJump solution specific to the retail food industry, according to Fuerst, is track-and-trace capabilities at lot, level and item level, as well as tracking of products for recalls.
Next-generation WMS tools include app stores, which Fuerst says can boost return on application investments and reduce risks, license fees and administration costs.
"The retail food industry is very likely to be impacted by the current omni-channel revolution," Lamphier notes. "Thought leaders are already implementing second-generation grocery pickup and/or delivery services from retail grocery store locations. Warehouse management tenets, best practices, solutions and implementers are likely to have a role in shaping the retail grocery store order fulfillment solutions."
Vendors will certainly have a role in processing customer-specific grocery orders in purpose-built grocery distribution centers, he adds, and those that have a strong heritage in non-grocery, direct-to-consumer order fulfillment automation will have an advantage.
"Direct-to-consumer order processing, whether grocery items or not, is likely to follow a much different operational process, including material-handling equipment versus bulk case picking to pallets," Lamphier says. "Shippers and practitioners are going to have to consider non-grocery best practices as these next-generation business strategies and operations take shape."
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