Four key features to look for in a manufacturing WMS

In general, WMS systems achieve the same broad based benefits that supported their original creation and development, no matter the industry or segment in which you participate. Better inventory control, more efficient and more visible transaction handling, sophisticated pick-and-pack and put-away strategies – these universally desired improvements should be common to every WMS system.  However, if you are thinking of implementing (or upgrading) a manufacturing WMS system in a manufacturing operation, there are some additional considerations that you should be evaluating and asking about.

1. Reverse logistics

Although most warehouse managers try their best to ignore and avoid this phrase, reverse logistics is an irrevocable trend that must be confronted and planned for. Reverse logistics, of course, refers to receiving finished product back into the manufacturing facility - the opposite direction of process design. The reason this is an increasing trend is twofold:

  • Environmentally, more companies are stepping up (or being coerced) to participate in recycling programs involving taking back their used products. 
  • More and more sellers tend to only be involved for the actual sales transaction; product quality issues or a changed consumer mind is an issue involving the consumer and the manufacturer. 

The point is, being able to handle reverse logistics as a standard process, and not a work-around would be a smart investment.

2. WMS in receiving

For many manufacturing companies, there are usually at least two warehouses – a raw materials warehouse, and a finished goods warehouse.  A manufacturing operation runs on raw materials.  Stock outs of crucial raw materials can disrupt efficient product flow and increase costs.  Achieving better inventory control, vendor relations, and production scheduling reliability because of operational improvements in the receiving warehouse can sometimes result in a higher financial payback than can be obtained from the finished goods warehouse.

Recommended reading: find manufacturing WMS to suit your company using our comprehensive WMS vendor

3. Lot control and tracking

For both quality control purposes and liability management, many manufacturers can determine the manufacturing history of any product by means of lot tracking. When a quality problem arises, for instance, they can see what other products were made around that same time. If the problem is with a component, they can isolate that lot of components and trace where they went in other products. From this standpoint, a manufacturing WMS should be lot (or batch) friendly.

4. Data integration

There are few environments as dynamic as a manufacturing shop floor when it comes to changing status. Raw materials are transformed into value add products on a constant basis, and yesterday’s WIP is today’s finished product. Having a manufacturing WMS that stays exactly in sync with all of the real time changes – from modified customer sales orders to the data in the MES system is a critical need in a manufacturing environment.

Many manufacturers treat the warehouse as an afterthought, or a necessary evil. Most manufacturing executives’ backgrounds are in manufacturing, not logistics. Because of this, there is little appreciation for the difference between a good fit and a poor fit in choosing a WMS systems. Knowing the right questions to ask can reduce the risk of choosing poorly.

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Shane Starr

About the author…

Shane Starr is a former ERP project manager, with business experience in manufacturing management, supply chain, finance, and strategic planning.

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Shane Starr

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