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warehouse is a commercial building for storage of goods. Warehouses are used by manufacturers, importers, exporters, wholesalers, transport businesses, customs, etc. They are usually large plain buildings in industrial areas of cities and towns. They come equipped with loading docks to load and unload trucks.


There are various warehousing services that are co-operative. These services deal with the transportation, logistics, road- transportation and shipping of the goods. A consistent, steadfast and timely supply chain is the key to success, for any business. Some companies offer their clients personalized attention, processes and communications, suited to their specific requirements. Some companies serve as third party logistics integrators that package the various special offers and select the best practice partners for flexible, customized, fully integrated supply chain solutions. Under management services, the companies provide export processing, freight bill auditing, planning and optimization, industry updates and distribution.

In the case of the warehousing companies, transportation services require a professional approach by the freight brokers. Transportation services include cross- docking as well as fulfillment services. They include storage trailers for transportation. Warehouses also provide services for inventory control, freight consolidation and cross- docking.

Warehouses help to provide general merchandise warehousing for short-term flexibility, as well as batch control and recall. The services include kitting, packing and pick and pack operations. They also include record retention, distribution of finished goods and preparing the variable cost structure accounts. Assembly packaging and labeling are also included in the services. The companies provide trans-loading and cross- docking, as well as EDI or Electronic Data Interchange. These services help in promoting programs and projects and in quality assurance testing. Apart from packaging and labeling, they help in stenciling and provide pallet exchange programs, repair and return programs and new and recycled sales.

The warehouses enhance the processing, washing and customized manufacturing. The services offered, help in the smooth functioning of the warehousing procedures. These services reach out to the clientele who regularly avail of their space, equipment and services. They ensure that the warehousing functions are applied effortlessly and effectively and their customers are satisfied.

Types of Warehouse Management Systems (WMS)

Because there are so many different types of warehouses and the definition of warehouse operations is different for every warehouse, there are many types of warehouse management systems (WMS). Trying to determine which WMS is best for which warehouse can be a daunting and expensive task, even for the best warehouse operations specialists.

Let's break down warehouse management systems into the different types of software Application modules. We might find a clue as to which system is best for which warehouse.

The three basic types of warehouse management software Application are as follows:

  1. package or commercial off-the-shelf (COTS);
  2. hosted systems and
  3. Proprietary systems.

Package or commercial off-the-shelf :
A package, otherwise known as a commercial off-the-shelf solution, is a warehouse management template that can be easily configured to work against a variety of database systems depending upon the infrastructure of the firm implementing the solution. Most warehousing functionality has been included such as asset tracking and definition, material-handling supervision, scheduling modules for trips and docks, stockyard management, shelflife supervision and much more. Once a package has been selected, consultants typically schedule workshops to flush out functional requirements and specifications, which then convert to configuration requirements for ultimate implementation and migration from your current system to the new system. As with any software implementation, if the requirements are well-defined at the inception of the project, using a COTS system can go very smoothly. Drawbacks with packaged solutions are generally related to performance with the occasional problem of desired functionality not being available.

Hosted systems:
Hosted WMS solutions are relatively new to the scene. These use the Internet for access to WMS software. Organizations no longer need to purchase software to operate their warehouses. The core software for a hosted WMS is owned and operated by the hosting company. All the functionality required to run your warehouse is available through your browser. Typically, these solutions are best for smaller warehouse operations, but new functionality is being added every day.

Proprietary systems:
Proprietary systems are really the benchmark by which many of today's packages and hosted systems are measured. Aberdeen recently reported that nearly 60% of all warehouse management software is still proprietary in nature. Apparently custom software providing the specific functionality, responsiveness and flexibility required, is still a viable solution for many organizations. One drawback to proprietary systems, however, is the high cost of ownership relating to custom service and maintenance. In general, the resource expertise required to maintain a custom software package comes with a high training price tag. Yet, when cost is sufficiently reduced, and accuracy and productivity is increased, proprietary systems can be quite attractive as they have been for companies like Wal-Mart.

Modern Warehousing and the Consultant

Modern warehouses are also used at large by exporters/manufacturers as a point of developing retail outlets in a particular region or country. This concept reduces the end cost of the product to the consumer and thus enhances the production sale ratio. Warehousing is an age old concept which can be used as sharp tool by original manufacturers to reach out directly to consumers leaving aside or bypassing importers or any other middle agencies or person.

When industrial computing equipment became available, distributors leveraged the insatiable consumer demand for imported goods and realized quick return on investment, ROI, when replacing paper-driven methods with computerized inventory control. By automating the warehouse, managers could reduce labor costs while keeping pace in productivity. As with any change in technology, complexities from process redesign to solution migration were exacerbated by the lack of trained personnel. Enter the Supply Chain Execution Consultant.

The fact is that with any move from one technology to another within supply chain activities, there are always issues to be confronted that are solely based on the case at hand. The Consultant's role can be as simple as identifying the roadblocks by conducting a technology survey to managing the project lifecycle of a complete warehouse management system. Customers do not stop placing orders just because the warehouse needs a technology makeover. The Consultant takes into consideration whether the product has a shelf-life constraint or if it's seasonal. In addition, the Consultant notes the available staging area, the number of resources available, the quantities moved, transportation issues, communication issues, and other such details for each warehousing task when designing technology migration plans.

The Consultant
Consultants are truly a warehouse manager's business partner. Typically the Consultant is an excellent communicator that is able to take an overview of an operation and deliver the desired solutions to such problems as inventory shrinkage, throughput speed, individual resource productivity, training, staffing and more by helping to implement process and technology enhancements with minor if any disruption to supply chain activities. Some of the solutions to these complex problems include speech-enabling activities such as voice picking, multimodal mobile applications that can adapt RFID, barcode scanning, GPS, Bluetooth and more. The Consultant can intelligently guide managers through the integration of complex systems such as paletizers, AGV forks, pick-to-light, pick-by-voice, warehouse management systems, WMS, and other packages to make warehouse activities more efficient.

Every few years a major technology enhancement promising deep cost reductions with quick ROI flashes onto the scene. If operations attempted to adopt all such changes, it would no doubt cripple their supply chain activities. With the experienced advice of a qualified industry consultant, a warehouse management team can rest assured that only the right technology enhancement will be undertaken at the right time with an assurance that the technology fits firmly within the framework of company goals.

Tomorrow's Warehouse Challenges

The role of the warehouse has changed dramatically as customer and vendor compliance issues have surfaced and a greater emphasis has been placed on supply chain visibility and customer satisfaction. Not only are there more demands and expectations, but as time has passed, companies have gone from viewing their distribution operations as a necessary, direct expense to viewing them as profit centers.

As the warehouse has changed, so has the caliber and skill set of the people needed to run it. Today's Director of Distribution is expected to have relevant experience, exceptional project management skills, knowledge of supply chain technology, the discipline to manage a multi-million dollar annual budget, the ability to collaborate with other departments within the organization, and the skill set to execute a plan that will reduce costs, improve productivity and support the overall corporate strategy.

Obviously, one of the things driving the change in the DC Director's role is the evolution of technology to streamline/optimize the efficiency of the operation. To stay ahead of the game, tomorrow's DC Director must familiarize himself with relevant technology and trends and appropriately plan for the future success of his warehouse.

Based on this, here are nine technologies you may want to consider as you prepare your facility for tomorrow:

Every few years a major technology enhancement promising deep cost reductions with quick ROI flashes onto the scene. If operations attempted to adopt all such changes, it would no doubt cripple their supply chain activities. With the experienced advice of a qualified industry consultant, a warehouse management team can rest assured that only the right technology enhancement will be undertaken at the right time with an assurance that the technology fits firmly within the framework of company goals.

Warehouse Management System

Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) automate the flow of product throughout the entire warehouse and continue to be a crucial part of the supply chain. A WMS maximizes the use of warehouse space through effective picking methodologies, location consolidation and cross docking. It also optimizes put-away and uses automated technology, such as barcode scanners and RFID, to efficiently monitor product flow. In addition, the system provides valuable visibility reports about the status of product in the warehouse. Some of the typical components of a WMS include real-time receiving, put away, slotting, web visibility, work order management, RF or paper picking, order management, shipping, event management, packing and returns.

While Warehouse Management Software is now a mature technology, it continues to evolve. Many applications are being rewritten to become more "user friendly", and many of the larger vendors are developing complete Supply Chain suites that encompass many of the technologies mentioned here as well as others such as Traffic Management and Yard Management.


Many companies are spending more money per year than necessary moving product through their warehouse because their facility is not properly slotted. Assigning items or SKUs to the correct storage locations is vital and there are several ways to help reduce travel time in the warehouse.

First, an analysis of SKU and customer order activity must be performed to identify problems and to pinpoint major opportunities for improvement. This information will help to determine where to store each product or SKU, what storage method to use, and how much to store.

There are several slotting measures available. Some of these include popularity (the number of requests for a SKU during a certain time period), turnover (the number of units shipped per period), cube-per-order (the physical size of the product, the daily demand, and average order size), volume (the cubic volume of a SKU, or a product, shipped per period), and pick density (the number of requests per volume of a SKU). Each of the above criteria is sometimes used in "golden zone" picking where the SKUs with the highest pick rate are assigned to the most accessible locations within the warehouse.

Dynamic slotting (rating each SKU by some combination of the above criteria) is a functionality of most top-tier WMS applications, and there are numerous stand-alone applications available for a one-time reslotting of a facility.

Labor Management

Labor management is vital to increasing productivity in your warehouse. Labor management tools and processes such as engineered labor standards and incentive programs will enable companies to make major improvements in productivity by monitoring and optimizing the performance of individual workers. Such tools and processes significantly increase throughput and decrease costs by helping manage and deploy personnel resources for maximum productivity.

There is a broad range of technology available in this category, ranging from simple tracking/comparison of worker productivity to systems that will utilize engineered standards to determine, and display in advance, the standard time a task should take by breaking it down into hundreds of "sub-tasks".


Like barcode technology a few years ago, voice technology is becoming more and more prevalent in the warehouse as a way for workers to communicate. Voice technology systems use speech recognition to allow workers to communicate verbally with the system via radio frequency. It is usually used for order picking.

Users, such as pickers, wear a computerized headset and microphone to receive instructions by voice and verbally confirm their actions back to the system. This allows them to have both hands free and eliminates the time associated with scanning or entering information into an RF device.

There are many benefits to "hands free" voice directed picking including improved order picking accuracy and productivity, improved stock efficiency, decreased training time and improved safety within the warehouse.


The increasing popularity of the Internet and online & catalog shopping have placed greater demands on distribution centers as fast, accurate orders are now a key part of customer service.

Gone are the days of full-case or pallet-picking of small volumes of large-sized orders or picking larger volumes of smaller-sized orders, as this does not meet the market demand. Small, frequent orders are now the trend for many distribution centers. Paper-based, multi-step fulfillment systems often can't meet these demands.

Pick-to-Light technology enables an order picker to quickly and easily find the location for their next pick using lights that are attached to shelving units in the distribution center. Besides guiding the picker to the exact location, the lights also display the exact amount to be picked and require confirmation.

In addition to speed and accuracy in the order processing and fulfillment operation, Pick-to-Light technology minimizes time spent searching for the correct SKUs and therefore increases picking rates.


Conveyor systems are critical for the performance of warehouse operations. Conveyors link receiving areas with storage, picking and loading areas and interface to various material handling equipment. Conveyors are able to accommodate changes of direction for material as they allow continuous material flow throughout the warehouse. In-line scanners are often utilized to capture information on conveyorized items and determine whether they should be diverted to/from work areas.

Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems

As mentioned above with the increased use of internet shopping, along with increased product diversification and offerings, more flexible storage options within the warehouse are needed and immediate on-demand order picking is crucial. Products need to be constantly moving through the warehouse and because of these new trends, Automatic Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS) are becoming more necessary and will soon be the norm in many warehouses. AS/RS, an automated, computer-controlled robot-type system for sorting, storing and retrieving physical items, come in many variations such as horizontal carousels, vertical carousels, vertical lift modules and/or crane-in-aisle storage and retrieval systems.

AS/RS can help increase productivity since the system can pick, replenish, and perform inventory checks on a single lift truck cycle and without a human operator. They are modular in construction, and therefore they can be altered to meet changing requirements. Other benefits include reduced inventories, decreased paperwork, fewer labor costs and increased inventory accuracy and customer service.

Visibility Tools

Today almost every supply chain or warehouse software vendor offers a visibility tool. These tools can provide real-time information that shows where products are at any given moment in the supply chain and, thus, help anticipate market demand. The future goal for most companies is visibility into all areas of their supply chain and collaboration with all supply chain partners. These tools will provide visibility into the status of purchased materials, into outbound materials as they arrive at your receiving docks, inside your warehouse from receiving to shipping, and finally to delivery to the customer.

One of the most significant benefits of visibility tools are that they help companies respond and adjust to the varying changes in supply and demand. Other benefits include faster response times so that fewer special shipments are needed, improved accuracy in manufacturing and fulfillment, reduced returns, and decreased labor requirements.

In a nutshell, as distribution technology continues to evolve, so will the role of the DC Director. Preparing your warehouse for tomorrow means staying on top of relevant technology trends and considering the impact each could have on your operation. Capture key customer information, and you can identify business opportunities and anticipate customer demand. Business Warehousing solutions can help you capture, analyze, warehouse and mine customer information.

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