Warehouse operations

With today’s technology, visibility to inventory within a company’s storage facilities is typically accomplished using a centralized warehouse management system (WMS). The points where errors are typically introduced in these systems are related to having the procedures and trained workforce in place to reliably update the system of record at key touchpoints where inventory is added, moved, or removed.

    • In many cases the movement touchpoints are not located where data can be easily entered – a dock door for example.
    • The workforce responsible for physically moving the inventory at various touchpoints is typically not trained or expected to perform the data entry function.
    • Data entry can be even more onerous and error prone if item-level or lot-level tracking is also required.

As a result, timely and accurate updates to the WMS are not always made. The information it contains therefore degrades over time and may no longer accurately represent the physical state of the warehouse or its contents. Manual labor-intensive cycle counts must therefore be performed periodically to update the central information system of record with the actual inventory on hand.

There may also be missed opportunities to “error proof” key material movement touchpoints where incorrect inventory movement, recalled items/lots, inventory processed out of sequence, or expired inventory can be detected. Detecting and correcting these types of errors immediately at the point they occur can significantly reduce the exception handling and rework processing required to correct them after the fact.

Third party logistics providers

The need for accurate inventory visibility and efficient warehouse operations is even higher for third party logistics providers (3PLs) who are in the business of providing warehouse and supply chain logistics services. In this case, the inventory being managed may be owned my multiple different customer companies which makes it even more important that the core pick, pack and ship functions are performed correctly.  The flow of material through the warehouse is also less predictable since they’re driven by the 3PLs client’s needs outside of the control of the 3PL.  In many such cases, service level agreement-based contracts are in place with customers that mandate penalties if inventory is not warehoused and delivered on time.

Warehouse attributes where scanning helps the most

Examples attributes of warehouse operations for which RFID and barcode scanning can help include:

    • warehouses with high velocity inventory turnover
    • 3PL provider warehouses with high volume of transactions from multiple clients
    • warehouses that are managed close to capacity – having accurate and timely inventory information is therefore more important
    • warehouses with high variability in transaction rates which makes it difficult to manage space availability
    • warehouses with many different SKUs but only a small number of each SKU at any point in time – this increases need for having accurate location information for each item
    • warehouses with perishable items with limited shelf-life which require the receiving and shipping order to be accurately maintained

How can RFID and barcode scanning help?

A RFID or barcode scanning system can augment the existing WMS by automatically detecting and reporting the receipt, storage, movement and shipment of inventory – thereby eliminating the need for manual data entry at points in the supply chain.  Simply moving an item from one location to another during the normal material processing flow is all that’s needed for the system to track the inventory.

The quantity of inventory on hand and the associated storage location for any given item and the remaining warehouse space available can therefore be tracked in real time thereby reducing the risk of lost items and an out-of-space events.

Scanning touchpoints can be located at key points in the warehouse including dock doors, choke points, storage bins, or  other locations.  For geographically distributed warehouses, scanning touchpoints can be installed in remote locations that connect to a central Spotlight server over the Internet.  Depending on the inventory items being tracked, individual items or the (reusable) pallets on which they reside may be tagged and scanned.  The warehouse management system can therefore receive the inventory receipt, storage, movement and shipment information it needs in real time.

RFID technology can allow “hands free” detection of inventory movement.  For examples, RFID portals can be configured at choke points to automatically detect the movement of items between one physical zone and another with no operator interaction required. Location tags can also be placed at selected locations and read by vehicle mount or handheld readers to automatically detect the location where an item as been placed.  Minimal or no staff training is therefore required use these systems.  Barcode scanning, while not completely hands free, is a simple operation that also requires very little training or data entry skills.

“Error proofing” logic can be added to the system at key touchpoints in the supply chain.  For example, an alarm can be signaled immediately for an item is moved to the incorrect location, is expired or recalled, or is being processed out of order.  Alerting the warehouse staff to correct errors immediately at the time they occur can significantly reduce the exception processing and related overheads that otherwise results to correct the errors later in the workflow.  Real time metrics and key performance indicators are also available from the tracking system to support continuous process improvement.

In summary, RFID or barcode scanning can augment the existing warehouse management system of record by automatically detecting and reporting the movement and consumption of inventory. Depending on the client’s specific warehouse operations requirements, S3Edge can deliver a turn-key tracking solution that meets their needs.

Business Benefits

Reduces labor for cycle counts and inventory monitoring

Significantly reduces the need for manual inventory monitoring and cycle counts.

Reduces exception processing

Accurate and timely item location information reduces time spent hunting for misplaced items.

Reduces staff training and data entry labor

RFID and barcode scanning replace much of the manual data entry.

Enables ``error proofing`` the supply chain

Allows errors detected at key points in the supply change to be immediately corrected.

Allows higher warehouse utilization

Real time visibility to inventory and storage space allows more efficient warehouse space utilization.

Example Warehouse Operations Projects

Do you have a warehouse automation project you’d like to discuss?