Manufacturing WMS Buyers' Guide
There is no simple manufacturing process. It’s all complexity and optimizing workflows to get 20 things to work together and create something amazing at the end. Choosing a warehouse management module or manufacturing WMS is going to feel much the same as your daily operations.
For other industries, it can be easy to edit and adjust a WMS to meet needs outside of its initial development. We don’t see the same in manufacturing at any point. Start with just the manufacturing management definition that takes into account multiple warehouse locations and requirements before, during, and after your manufacturing process.
Now consider what you’ll need to sort out orders that you’re using to stage goods, send directly to customers, or receive back if there’s been an issue. In all cases, you’ll want clear lines of communication and visibility to track each step in their respective journeys.
So, we’ve put this guide together to help you learn what questions to ask and get some support in choosing the best manufacturing software for you. You’ll get help learning:
- What requirements should a manufacturing WMS meet?
- What comes standard in a manufacturing WMS?
- Additional features you might want to request
- Where do you start with your budget?
- A shortlist of vendors you may want to consider
So, let’s get started with this development and put you on a path to better understanding and picking warehouse management software.
What should my requirements be for a manufacturing WMS?
Determining the requirements to find the best manufacturing software starts with an honest evaluation of your business. You want all your manufacturing management software, WMS included, to be able to fit your business, not create requirements that force you to adjust to the software. Find a partner, not another middle manager.
Look at your other processes and the software involved to see what expertise you might already have and what your staff is familiar with today. If you’re using only installed, on-site systems, then you might want to reconsider a cloud-based WMS. Or, you’ll identify a requirement that it needs to work with your specific ERP system.
Broad things to consider include the types of goods and raw materials you’re working with and any special needs they have, such as regulations or requirements for minimizing personnel risk. How do they enter and leave your locations? Do your providers ask that you run specific warehouse management processes or production software to support their goods?
Next, consider the processes and supplies you use in the manufacturing of goods. Copy your workflows and look for any areas where materials are introduced, or new items developed. Don’t just think of your end products. If you offer customization, you’ll need a way to track these items. If you recycle or reclaim elements, be sure to include that as well.
Take a break and think of biting into a nice KitKat bar. A recent BBC documentary showed that these bars are made up of other, crushed-up Kit Kats. The manufacturing process recycles and reuses the offcuts, so you know their WMS needs to calculate tonnage and reuse. Does your process do anything similar or as unique? What would your WMS need to capture to make that workflow useful?
"The manufacturing process recycles and reuses the offcuts, so you know their WMS needs to calculate tonnage and reuse"
During the RFP and selection process, you’ll be looking through a few different types of warehouse management systems, some that may put either ERP or WMS first. Knowing what your business needs is the best way to narrow down your requirements and needs in a way that will protect your investment.
What are the must-have features of manufacturing warehouse management software?
Your WMS requirements list for functions, data, tracking, and other elements should guide an internal creation of core and advanced features to look from for your manufacturing WMS selection. That said, we wanted to provide a few introductory considerations to help you start the process and double check your work.
The warehouse management process and controls are just an element of your WMS, so make sure you also look for WMS ERP integration, goods controls, and much more. Here are the items to start with to ensure you’ve got a high-level view that will help your efforts and selection process.
Core features to request
Some WMS in manufacturing scenarios will need to have consistent deliverables and capabilities. We’ve put together a few here to get you thinking about what you’ll need. Your requirements for creating a list of the top warehouse management systems specific to you will vary, but here’s where to begin.
- Complex picking support. Manufacturers have some of the most intensive picking requirements in the supply chain. You’re likely working on a variety of simultaneous picking efforts to fulfill production, movement within your facilities, and shipping parts or products to customers. Not only are your orders complex, but so is your facility compared to a standard warehouse. Look for a robust system that can handle a variety of workflows, but also makes it easy for you to separate out these efforts.
- Multiple picking techniques supported. Together with complex picking is the ability to configure and use a wide range of picking options. These can be standard systems such as batch and wave picking through methods that allow you to introduce materials throughout the production process, such as having multiple pickers for a single order, generating a variety of labels or barcodes and records as products are made, and end-of-line workflow controls.
- Multiple put-away rules. Just like your picking is complicated, your receiving is going to be a significant focus. Demand a system that can adjust to your workflows, so you keep materials and products in optimal positions for use within your operations. Not only do you want smart put-away, but also seek out a system that accurately counts down against receivables as things are put up, to verify purchase orders in a way that automatically updates your ERP.
- Reverse logistics. This is a feature we find to be especially important to WMS and ERP integration for manufacturers. It’s a trend we see on an upswing for people in your position because customers may increase their demands for returning packaging or in recycling programs. Plus, you’re more likely to increase your role as a direct seller in coming quarters. This means you need a path for goods when they’re returned, instead of trying to stack them in the back of a warehouse and “figure it out later” like so often happens when there’s no plan.
- Lot control. Manufacturers face significant risks to their operations when goods, materials, or parts aren’t high enough quality and lead to a fault of the final product. Lot control ensures that you can match each component back to its origin, and the better the data, the more you’ll be able to avoid all problems in the supply chain. While this is especially important for food and beverage manufacturers’ risk safety programs, it can help any manufacturer avoid product failures or act quickly when a problem with one product is detected. It’s your best tool for a rapid response to recalls, though is equally important in avoiding the use of expired products.
- Storage and staging options. Storage and locator functionality is common in warehouse inventory management systems from basic to the most advanced. When you’re looking to differentiate to determine the best manufacturing software, we recommend a conversation that touches on storage but then moves to the ability to stage goods for optimal use throughout the production and order creation stages. You want flexibility for changing production lines as well as improvements to use your warehouse space best.
- ERP integrations. Linking manufacturing WMS and ERP software is your most important software integration when it comes to the warehouse. It’ll help with demand planning from end-to-end, and can also help you start the integration conversation with your vendors. While you’ll likely want to move beyond ERP integration fairly quickly, it seems to be the one system that is a must on every manufacturer’s list, big and small.
- Support for industry standards, such as barcodes. Barcode support is pretty obvious, so focus on the early part of that sentence, “industry standards.” Your industry may use diverse kinds of tagging or have specific data points that must be captured. You’ll have some areas around quality so that you can maintain your quality and management-related certifications
- Audit and export. Another core function for any industry that has a variety of ISO and other certifications is the ability to export and share data that you can hand off to auditors, whether internal or external. You’ll want an ability to track data and edits to it throughout your supply chain.
- Mobile support. Every warehouse is looking for new devices to speed up processes. While standard mobiles often focus on barcode capture, you should also consider mobile printers, signature capture tools, advanced scanners, RFID gates, and more. What you use today must be supported. What you plan to use tomorrow should be supported.
Advanced options to consider
- Advanced data formatting. This requirement touches on things like manufacturing from raw materials. A static system may have difficulty adjusting to the way real-world goods are received and captured. Advanced WMS options will allow you to track in more detail and adjust based on business need, which many manufacturers need over the course of their products.
- Component and customization support. Today’s manufacturing world comes with a wider range of customer demands, often with a focus on customization. That can mean looking to incorporate the assembly of components parts to reduce WIP inventory and save costs.
- Just-in-time (JIT) support. The Six Sigma push was big in the warehouse and manufacturing space. One of the more consistent outcomes was a focus on JIT manufacturing. To get it right, you need a strong and accurate supply chain. Some WMS can support this need too.
- What you need tomorrow. Your operations are always looking forward and you know there’s support specific for the next steps. Sometimes that’s automation, while others may be integration or new material handling. Ask about support for what you’ve got planned next.
One big note about advanced functionality is that you’ll want to see these items in practice during your WMS previews. Try before you buy to make sure their processes match yours. Lean initiatives that are part of JIT can cause issues if they don’t align with your operations or workflows. You may need more complexity than a system can offer, even if checks off JIT support in your request for proposals.
Can I work with my partners easier?
Right now, there’s a lot of focus on emerging blockchain technology because it creates an immutable ledger, forcing everyone to be a little more honest. Most manufacturing WMS that you can purchase don’t come with outright blockchain support, but they will come with tools you can use to make the same promise to your partners: “I’m an honest manufacturer.”
Have a visibility and sharing conversation with each vendor. You’ll want to see if it’s easy to share and receive status information. Plus, the better this data is to use, the easier a time you have to re-order goods when needed, plan for potential partner shortcomings, or get the data you need ahead of a projected order from clients.
How much does a manufacturing WMS cost?
The only people who say, “it depends,” more often than lawyers and barristers seem to be support reps for manufacturing WMS tools.
There was no clear way to nail down a price on manufacturing ERP or WMS software because of the integrations and other requirements unique to each manufacturer. This went beyond normal specialty pricing restrictions and made it difficult to predict costs even when narrowing down to broad categories like small business manufacturing software.
Your research is going to involve speaking to a lot of reps directly, because you can’t necessarily rely on posted pricing either. Fishbowl, for example, says that its WMS tools for manufacturers start at $4,395, though our brief chat with a representative uncovered that manufacturers almost always need customization and advanced support, so you should expect to end up receiving a custom quote.
The same was true for Epicor’s WMS that says it starts at $55 per user per month; and the MISys Manufacturing software (this is largely an accounting tool but follows the same pattern by stating licenses start at $3,995 but provide hoops to jump through for pricing that tends to rise at the end).
"For single-location operations, you can expect your first year to come in around the $20,000 mark for cloud systems."
Some groups seem to stick a little closer to their starting price, like WMS COLLECT’s $2,500 cost for the first user, but your needs might cause these prices listed on the Web to be woefully inaccurate.
If you’re looking for a ballpark estimate, we’ve got an introduction to the topic in this guide, and it would be safe to assume that any manufacturer starts out in the “mid-range functionality” segment based on the tools and services you’ll put in your must-have list.
For single-location operations, you can expect your first year to come in around the $20,000 mark for cloud systems. Installed systems that use a perpetual license can easily double that amount for your first year, though they tend to decline in cost in the following years. The more complex your operations — especially if you’re replacing a WMS and not installing one for the first time — could be closer to the $100,000 range because of your size and complexity.
We’ve got a detailed guide that can help you start to create a clearer picture of your expectations, especially when you know a few of the manufacturing WMS vendors you’re considering. If you haven’t made a short-list just yet, keep reading to discover a few companies to get you started.
Please note, this isn’t a comprehensive list or one designed just for you. It is an attempt to curate some businesses who provide a wide-reaching set of supports and functionality.
Which manufacturing WMS vendors should I consider?
There’s a large list of WMS services available that support manufacturers, as well as some specific to warehouse inventory management needs you have. For small operators, you may also consider a more general WMS if it meets your core functionality needs.
We can’t show that full list, so we’ve put together the top 10 warehouse management systems we could find in a way designed to show you options and capabilities. We’ve excluded free warehouse management software simply because it is often not robust enough to help manufacturers and may leave you open to greater liability and risks.
Here’s a list (in alphabetical order) to get your thought process started:
- Fishbowl Warehouse. The Fishbowl Warehouse is focused on increasing productivity and efficiency of material use, two core KPIs for any manufacturing trying to review their profitability. The system’s strong support of mobile devices and multiple order management can also benefit manufacturers.
- HighJump. HighJump is a useful WMS with smart warehouse management process tools if you’re a small to mid-sized manufacturer. There are stricter role-based controls and a focus on optimizing small inventory, which customers say is best in one warehouse or two smaller locations.
- IntelliTrack. We’ve included IntelliTrack because of its focus on regulation and government compliance. The system is designed for both manufacturers and government partners, so there are ingrained tools to help you meet regulations as well as your distribution needs.
- IQMS. The WMS offering from IQMS comes on the heels of existing software and support that focuses specifically on manufacturers. It has strong industry knowledge and is likely the best WMS ERP integration option if you already use the IQMS ERP. Another strong suit is its real-time control capabilities.
- Made4net. Microsoft-focused brands may want to consider a provider like Made4net whose system is based on Microsoft’s SOA tech. It has high customization capabilities to match manufacturer needs and is a strong integrator across multiple different OEMs and system providers.
- Manhattan Distribution Management. Manhattan Associates has a strong suite of manufacturing logistics tools that run the gamut of your requirements, from compliance and customer satisfaction to inventory optimization and cost controls during production. This warehousing product is one part of its solution and even by itself should be considered because of its capabilities around removing errors in your inventory processing or compliance.
- NetSuite WMS. Part of a larger set of tools, the NetSuite WMS service from Oracle places emphasis on real-time data usage across leading WMS needs. You’ll get access to a wide range of metrics too, both inbound and outbound, allowing you to adjust as soon as you need.
- Snapfulfil. Snapfulfil is a cloud-based WMS that makes our list because it can scale easily between large and small operations. Its growth doesn’t require a lot of modifications if you want to stay hands-off, but also supports plenty of customization when needed. Implementation is also a strong suit because of its speed and reliability.
- Sterling WMS. IBM’s entrant into the market is notable because of its focus on improving productivity in high traffic warehousing environments by enabling centralized inventory, resource, and administration processes. It’s also a good benchmark to look at for visibility capabilities that are available in modern WMS options.
- Wireless Warehouse in a Box. While most view the platform from Systems Logic as a 3PL offering, it also has a focus on manufacturing. We like it’s visual warehousing capabilities, real-time data, and the advanced features for its packing and distribution (including reverse logistics). Plus, the name makes it sound easy to install and will get your mind thinking about the questions you need to ask others about implementation.
That’s it for our guide on getting you started to think about the role of your WMS in manufacturing and how to use such a system to improve your operations. Like all your other processes, there are a lot of variables involved. We wish you the best of luck with these efforts, especially those trick WMS ERP integrations and implementations.