Without warehouse management software, order fulfillment and returns can be very confusing. A manually-run warehouse may depend on handwritten labels on each product bin, and fulfillment could depend on individual pickers running throughout the warehouse picking items visually. This process is naturally prone to error. It is easy for a picker to select an incorrect item simply through carelessness, or even because an item may have been misplaced or incorrectly labeled.
Furthermore, inefficiencies will result from a manual fulfillment system when the warehouse workers attempt to consolidate space when a shelf is half empty. The purpose of doing so is to gain efficiency and maximize use of space, but without an automated system in place, the risk of error is high.
Warehouse management software should automate the picking process. Having pickers select products based on visual inspection and labels alone is inefficient, time consuming, and risky. A simple barcode system, which equips each employee with a bar code and labels each item or pallet, guards against the mistakes of picking by visual inspection.
The same bar code used for picking is also tied into the inventory system to keep track of location of all items. Even if a shelf is consolidated or moved, the use of bar codes will keep track of location in a back-end database, so that the picker will not have to rely on memory or a manually-drawn warehouse map to locate items. The employee would simply scan the bar code on the pick order, and the display would reveal the exact location.
The process starts before the picking, though. When goods are received in the warehouse, they are scanned in, again with bar codes that already exist or that are applied on site. This process speeds up the receiving process at the dock, and ensures that inventory records are up to date in real time.
After receiving is the putaway process, and it’s yet another task that is also time-consuming and error-prone without automation. However, with good warehouse management software in place, all products will be labeled, all inventory is tracked, and the warehouse manager designs an effective and efficient layout so that warehouse staff knows ahead of time exactly where each bin is to be located.
Warehouse management software delivers efficiencies outside of the warehouse as well, throughout the entire supply chain. For example, the purchasing department will receive real-time information on inventory levels, so decisions can be made on a timely basis about further acquisition. This integration minimizes the chance that a particular item will be out of stock at any given time.
The returns process is in itself a drain on efficiency, but with warehouse management software, there are two major advantages. First of all, when a return is made, it can be immediately scanned back into the inventory system and returned to stock without error. Second, an indirect advantage accrues since warehouse management software improves picking and fulfillment on the front end, lessening the likelihood that an incorrect order will be fulfilled. As a result, there are fewer returns.