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Best practices are presented for integrating mobile, wireless and data capture technologies into warehouse management. By Stuart Scott, director, Solutions Marketing, Asia Pacific & Middle East, Motorola Solutions

The warehouse is at the centre of your business. It is the key hub through which nearly everything in your business must pass — from raw materials and finished goods in a manufacturing plant to pallets and cases in a distribution centre, to a wealth of products in a retail warehouse. But in today’s highly competitive markets, there is something even more important that is dependent on more efficient warehouse operations: customer satisfaction.

What is it that your customers want from your warehouse and logistics operations? Accurate, on-time and flawless fulfilment. Every time.

Mobility As Catalyst

Today’s forward-looking warehouse and logistics professionals are using wireless and mobile technology as the catalyst for driving flawless fulfilment. When mobility is extended throughout your warehouse, new levels of efficiency, accuracy and visibility can be achieved. Ponderous paper processes are replaced by real-time computerised forms on mobile computers.

Barcode scanning, including 1D and 2D, enables checking and double-checking that the right items are being picked, packed and shipped. RFID provides automatic tracking of materials and assets without human intervention. You can move from automation in a single process to a broad integration of the latest technologies across all of your warehouse processes.

The Right Devices

In the past, warehouse operations tended to look at mobile devices as one-size-fits-all. That is no longer the case. Today, with the proliferation of smarter, more productive mobile devices, the goal is to make sure employees are using the right device for the right task. Powerful, rugged single and multi-modal devices provide functionalities — from scanning to tag reading to voice picking and more — in a variety of form factors such as hand-held, vehicle mounted, wearable and hands-free mobile units.

Multi-modal technology is rising in importance, providing users with the ability to perform multiple tasks on one device; for example, units that combine scanning, voice and text, with the option of using voice-only, text-only or a combination of voice and text for input.

Six-Step Roadmap

The path to achieving flawless fulfilment begins by following the six steps outlined in this article. They will help create a more collaborative information architecture that not only enables a leaner, more flexible warehouse operation but a leaner, more profitable enterprise as well. Equally important, your enhanced warehouse mobility can serve as the foundation for more efficient enterprise-wide mobility.

Step 1: Deploy industrial wireless solutions
Step 2: Improve staff communications and management
Step 3: Streamline order picking processes
Step 4: Advance inventory and storage capabilities
Step 5: Upgrade inbound handling operations
Step 6: Turnaround outbound handling performance

The Negative Impact Of The Fragmented Warehouse

Whether you are a manufacturer, retailer, or distributor, your warehouse operations play a pivotal role in making your business successful. That is not a surprise. Your warehouse is a complex, multi-faceted central hub through which virtually everything passes: from raw materials waiting to be manufactured into finished goods, to finished products waiting for shipment to a distribution centre, retailer or end-customer.

Warehouse operations affect virtually every business-critical issue, including inventory management, worker productivity, shipment accuracy, timeliness and, ultimately, customer satisfaction and Return-On-Investment (ROI). The reality is, too many warehouse processes are still pen-and-paper-based.

Just as problematic is technical fragmentation, with the technology available in only a few operations. The truth is, flawless fulfilment requires technical and operational integration across all your processes and workflows.

The Positive Impact Of Mobilising Key Warehouse Processes

Without mobility to enable accurate, real-time processing throughout the warehouse, each and every warehouse function is adversely impacted. Mobile and wireless technology that automates and streamlines inventory, storage and logistics processes is key to providing flawless fulfilment.

Following is a look at the essential steps that warehouses and distribution centres can follow — in sequential order — to achieve flawless fulfilment.

Step 1: Deploy Industrial Wireless Solutions

Warehouse and distribution centres are classic examples of dynamic industrial environments that present communications and technology challenges that are much more stringent than those of the carpeted space. Today’s warehouses are bigger, taller and more densely packed than ever. There are more Stock Keeping Units (SKUs), shorter cycles, and a premium on fast, accurate fulfilment.

As companies strive to respond more quickly and accurately to customer demands, the value of efficient process automation and inventory visibility, storage, movement and control is hard to overestimate. As warehouse environments become more reliant on real-time communications technology to automate and streamline processes, the initial step toward achieving flawless fulfilment is the deployment of a truly industrial-strength wireless and mobile solution.

Step 2: Improve Staff Communications And Management

Flawless fulfilment does not happen without everyone in the warehouse working together productively. This demands fast and efficient task management enabled by real-time voice and data communications between supervisors and employees everywhere in the facility. Managers can proactively direct work orders and assign tasks that are not currently driven by the WMS, as well as monitor the efficiency and progress of work as it is being performed.

Equipping warehouse staff with access to instantaneous business-critical communications systems enhances productivity and provides a real-time coordination platform that can increase task interleaving and help you achieve flawless fulfilment.

Step 3: Streamline Order Picking Processes

Warehouses are growing larger in space with an increase in the number of items carried, both of which impact the achievement of flawless fulfilment. In a warehouse survey carried out by Motorola, more than half of respondents reported plans to increase the number of SKUs (54.2 percent), the volume of items carried (54.2 percent) and their annual inventory turnover (50.6 percent).

In the next five years, almost 70 percent of respondents indicated plans to increase automated processes and 66 percent plan to equip staff with more technology. These initiatives are especially valuable for pick and fill functions where costs are high and errors can easily snowball into less accurate, less timely shipping and greater numbers of dissatisfied customers.

Step 4: Advance Inventory And Storage Capabilities

The key to achieving flawless fulfilment is real-time inventory visibility and control. To meet operational and financial requirements, companies must regularly conduct comprehensive inventory counts. When cycle counts are conducted manually, or with older or fragmented technology solutions, they can be extremely time consuming and often fraught with errors.

The key to achieving flawless fulfilment is real-time inventory visibility and control. To meet operational and financial requirements, companies must regularly conduct comprehensive inventory counts. When cycle counts are conducted manually, or with older or fragmented technology solutions, they can be extremely time consuming and often fraught with errors.

Step 5: Upgrade Inbound Handling Operations

Receiving and sortation are critical steps in ensuring flawless fulfilment. They are critical because issues in receiving all too often morph into other issues throughout the warehouse management process. To streamline inbound operations, today’s warehouses must be able to manage two growing trends.

First, their systems must be prepared to take advantage of increases in the number of incoming items that have barcodes. According to Motorola, respondents to a study predicted that the percentage of barcoded items will grow from about 67 percent today to almost 84 percent in the next five years.

Second, they need to respond seamlessly to shifting supplier requirements, some of which the survey identified as the increased use of Advance Ship Notices (ASN), RFID systems, GSDN data and GS1 standards.

Step 6: Turnaround Outbound Handling Performance

Packing, loading, staging and shipping are the equivalent of the ‘last mile’ in flawless fulfilment. In today’s hyper-competitive marketplace, these functionalities are key to turning around warehouse and distribution centres to streamline delivery, enhance competitive advantage and increase customer satisfaction and loyalty.
Whether you are shipping to a manufacturer that needs raw materials for just-in-time production or a retail customer waiting for delivery of her holiday gifts, the importance of timely, accurate deliveries cannot be overstated.

Warehouse Mobility: The Foundation Of Flawless Fulfilment

The warehouse is at the very heart of your business operations. Poorly managed warehouses can actually become cost prohibitive, significantly impacting the cost of doing business — and general profitability. Through mobility, real-time warehouse data can be leveraged to enable a new level of information collaboration throughout the enterprise, and most importantly, flawless fulfilment.

The value of mobility in the warehouse function is clear. You are able to automate and streamline processes, enhance flexibility to respond to customer demand, and better manage the risks of managing a lean warehouse. Processes across the warehouse are streamlined, reducing cycle times. Worker productivity is increased, reducing the cost of labour across the warehouse operation. Orders are fulfilled more accurately, improving customer service and enhancing customer satisfaction and loyalty. The cost of sales attributed to movement through the warehouse is reduced. The right set of data is available in the right place at the right time to enable the most efficient next action, and the most effective business decisions.

Bottom line, leveraging mobility in the warehouse and beyond can yield highly beneficial results, including reduced costs, improved quality, better customer service, higher margins and greater profitability that deliver real business advantage.

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