Volume 46, Issue 3 - April 2007

Warehouse Technology: Going Wireless Pays Off!
It’s Essential to Prepare and Train Before Implementing New Software
by Mike Owens

A large golden football trophy surrounded by a joyous group of newly crowned high school state champions – that’s the image captured by the photographer’s snapshot. That’s the end result everyone was hoping for and the end result that everybody remembers. 

What this late November picture doesn’t show are the real reasons they won the trophy: the wind sprints in early August when the Memphis sun was so hot that the practices had to be held at night, overcoming the loss of the star running back to injury late in the season, the all-weekend film sessions by the weary coaches prior to the championship game, and probably a thousand other little things that helped make this team a champion. 

But what in the world does that have to do with warehouse technology? To use the football analogy from above: you don’t start off with the golden trophy; you start off with the wind sprints! The preparation you’ll go through to achieve a successful warehouse technology implementation is not unlike the preparation needed to win a sports championship. 

You have to understand and prepare for the basics before you can achieve the successful end results. Your people have to be prepared and flexible, and they have to be coached or trained on proper procedures of using the system. You may have some setbacks along the way, and it may seem like there is no way you’ll hit your deadlines, but you have to keep moving the project forward. When you do, the pain of the implementation “season” dulls compared to the shine of the “trophy” of the profitable business benefits you’ll gain from implementing this new technology. 

Warehousing technology allows you to accurately and efficiently track products throughout your facility through the use of Radio Frequency (RF) scanners and wireless connectivity, so that you can receive products, put them away, pick them, take them through production, stage them for loading, and scan them for shipping. Then, with a quick inquiry into your warehouse software, you know exactly how much of every product you have, where it is in your facility, and who handled it. 

Getting Your Facility Ready
To successfully implement wireless Radio Frequency (RF) warehouse technology, a great deal of preparation must occur. As a general rule, a complete start to finish Warehouse Management System (WMS) implementation usually takes anywhere from six months to as much as a year. It is important to spend a lot of time preparing and thinking through the whole process. Many companies will target a slower time of year to do the WMS preparation, often the winter months when the building industry sometimes slows down due to weather. Making this type of change in your business often provides a great opportunity for you to re-examine your entire business and operational flow to find more efficient ways of doing things.

Your facility preparation is one of the most time consuming yet necessary aspects of making the move to wireless warehouse technology. You’ll want to consider things like racking and aisle placement, bin ranking and numbering (for primary and secondary storage areas), and labeling the bins with barcode labels. Your warehouse software will need to be aligned and appropriately interfaced with your primary business software.

It is also important to think through and purchase the equipment needed to be successful, which includes RF scanners, portable as well as heavy duty printers, and the appropriate type of labels. If you’re at a frigid loading dock in Minnesota in January, you may need a different type of label than if you’re in a humid warehouse in south Florida in July, for example. 

You’ll need to make sure that your warehouse is properly equipped with RF access points, antennas, and so forth, and that you have updated the product information in your computer software to match what you are trying to achieve in the warehouse.

Getting Your People Ready
Equally important to facility preparation is people preparation. The staff using the warehouse solution must be trained properly on how the software and scanners work, and there must be testing, testing, and more testing to make sure that everything in the system is set up properly. It is critical that you define and assign all tasks and responsibilities so that everyone knows what they are supposed to do. It is better to wait a month or two and be sure than to move forward when they are not adequately trained and prepared.

You must commit the resources of time and people for training. They must know the step by step processes and how that impacts the information in the system. Procedural changes from the way you have previously operated must be well documented. Managers throughout your facility must be committed to training their staff and to the success of the project overall.

Your Warehouse Solution
WoodWare’s customers using our Windows-based WMS warehouse software have experienced results like these:
• Customer order fulfillment rate improved by 5 percent to 99 percent, due to employees easily finding correct items the first time;
• Operating labor efficiency improved 17 percent, primarily in receiving and shipping; 
• Office labor efficiency has improved by 11 percent, handling 25 percent more calls with the same number of people;
• Critical operating information is readily available to staff members, helping them identify and resolve problems much more quickly;
• Much better tracking of special order material; and
• Warehouse employees can locate product more quickly.

These are typical results you can expect after a successful implementation of warehouse software solutions like WoodWare’s WMS software. But just like that golden trophy, these results will only come after putting in the hard work of preparation and training that we have discussed. It will not be easy, but the end result is worth the price you’ll pay to achieve it. 

the author: Mike Owens, vice president of sales and marketing at WoodWare Systems, the millwork industry’s software and technology leader (www.woowaresystems.com). For more information, please contact Mike at 901-763-3999 or by email at mowens@woodwaresystems.com.

© Copyright 2007 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved. No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.