TECH TIPS: New Warehouse Management Technologies Beat The Old Ones
New kinds of warehouse picking technologies can produce greater savings and benefits than bar code readers for supply houses. And, they can be bolted on to distribution business (ERP) software or warehouse management systems (WMS) and work in conjunction with bar code readers. Let's look at how these new technologies work - after explaining “WMS.”
Bar Code Reading Is Not A WMSWMS refers to functions that bar code reading alone does not provide. For example, WMS logic and data determine where to stow received items, such as bulk, that are not stored in permanent places, in a way that minimizes put away and picking times; determine the quickest path for picking an order, even when storage locations (e.g., bulk) have changed; alert someone to replenish a picking slot, and define which slots to pull from; and determine how to re-slot a warehouse to reduce labor effort. Some ERP packages offer an extra-cost WMS module, or have WMS features built-in, but the add-on WMS packages may contain more features.
It is important to note that for a WMS to work well, many warehouses need to be rearranged and/or tight procedures and controls need to be implemented. Without such preparations, a WMS can reduce productivity and result in more errors that hurt customer service.
New Picking Technologies: Voice-Directed Picking (VDP). A picker wears headphones and a microphone attached to a wireless computer worn on the person's work belt. People are assigned their own wireless computer and teach it their speech patterns. When an order is to be picked, the main business system sends data to the VDP computer server, which in turn transmits that data to the wireless computer of the system-selected picker. The wireless computer in turn transforms that data into audible commands - the picker is told where to go, what to pick and how much to pick. As he/she picks, the picker talks into the microphone identifying what was picked and from what location. The portable computer transforms the speech into data and transmits it to the computer server, which in turn transmits it back to the main system for verification. The picker is immediately “told” about any picking errors. VDP can also be used for put away.
Pick to Light (PTL) involves a display device that is mounted at the front of the shelf on which an item is stored, and all the display devices are wired together. When an order is to be picked, the main business system sends data to the PTL computer server, which illuminates a light on the display device for each involved item; the device also displays the quantity to be picked. After an item is picked, the picker presses a button on the device to indicate that the item has been picked. When the button on all the item-specific displays has been pressed, a master display device illuminates a green light to indicate that the picker is ready for the next order, or a red master light indicates there is an error that needs to be corrected. As buttons are pressed, data is transmitted to the computer server, which in turn transmits it back to the main system.
As for other picking technologies, a warehouse needs to be specifically arranged for VDP or PTL, and tight procedures and controls need to be implemented.