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Digital networking in the warehouse

Digital networking in the warehouse

The warehouse management software is outdated and no longer fits in with the modern networked world. Many companies are familiar with this scenario and yet balk at taking the risk of swapping their systems for a modern software solution. Jürgen Wagner, software team leader at Kardex Remstar, explains how to make the successful switch to warehouse management software (WMS) that is fit for the future.

There are understandable reasons why IT managers fail to tackle the task of replacing their old systems with new TCP/IP(Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol)-based warehouse management software: unclear requirements, fear of downtimes, a lack of personnel resources, and/or the time and costs involved. Although companies are still able to operate their dynamic storage and retrieval systems with an outdated WMS, they no longer fit in with the new networked world. They are merely isolated solutions. As such, nobody can efficiently manage the organization, evaluation, and administration of the overarching processes. A modern warehouse management system is needed to ensure that a newly introduced SAP WM (Warehouse Management) or MM (Materials Management) module can process the item-related information from the warehouse systems.

Most managers have acknowledged this fact. That is why many logistics specialists and warehouse and supply chain managers have been carefully rethinking their processes since the financial turmoil of 2008. During the sluggish period, they had more time to compare new technology and solutions. In view of the growing pressure on costs, they also felt compelled to eliminate intralogistics sub-processes that added no value. After all, most of a company’s capital is often tied up in its warehouse. Every superfluous item in the inventory costs money.

Logistics, IT, and project experience
Yet introducing new warehouse management software requires careful planning, especially in the case of large inventories consisting of several thousand different items. Intralogistics and IT managers often struggle to calculate the time needed for such a project, and the cost-benefit ratio of the system changeover. Not only structures, processes (such as order picking), and technology have to be taken into consideration, but also the warehouse layout and the structural conditions of the building. In addition, many warehouse systems still use work processes that are decades old. All of these things present a challenge to those involved that shouldn’t be underestimated. That is why Kardex Remstar not only contributes its logistics and IT expertise, but also its extensive project experience.

Focusing requirements, testing software
It always starts with a process analysis in the warehouse to assess the status quo. A workshop for everyone involved is an ideal way of carefully examining the various processes. It serves to focus ideas and helps to initiate an overarching communication concept. All of the requirements derived from the joint workshop will then flow into a test system based on Kardex Remstar’s own Power Pick Global warehouse management software. After the initial training, warehouse employees and intralogistics managers then replicate their daily working environment with the test system, ideally every day for a certain period of time.  Four weeks later, another workshop is held so that everyone can share their experiences. A functional specification document is then produced, which may be specially adapted to the circumstances. This also forms the basis of the solution proposal and the sales team’s quotation. The project’s duration is then determined, depending on its size and the available resources.

Two systems or one?
The next step depends on the results of the joint decision-making process. Kardex Remstar supplies various software solutions depending on the structures, processes, and IT system landscape. In the case of outdated warehouse management software and a new SAP module, for instance, the following question arises: Should the company introduce a new WMS, such as Power Pick Global (PPG), which plays a subordinate role working alongside SAP WM or SAP MM? With such a configuration, a link sends all warehouse-related orders from SAP to PPG and back again for confirmation and inventory reconciliation purposes. The warehouse employees then continue to operate two systems in parallel, but benefit from all the advantages of Power Pick Global with its options to display trays and storage spaces.

Or should the WMS seamlessly merge with SAP? If the findings of the workshop confirm SAP as the leading system, then the Kardex Drive interface can be used. With this SAP-based solution, Kardex Drive integrates completely with SAP. The warehouse employees then work solely via the SAP interface and initiate the storage/retrieval command from there. Although the latter option involves less work for Kardex Remstar, the customer still has to clarify a number of requirements with their SAP host system: "In what form do I manage the inventory? How should I organize the orders? How can SAP orders be converted into storage/retrieval commands for the units?" Such questions require the expertise of an external SAP consultant.

The highly flexible JMIF (Java Machine Interface) is available for other ERP software such as Microsoft Dynamics, Infor, and Oracle. Orders initiated via the ERP software can be confirmed here and converted into storage/retrieval commands for the Kardex Remstar storage lifts.

Whichever solution the customer chooses, the relief of finally having tackled the issue is the real winner in the end. More continuous processes and an effective material flow show that the effort is worthwhile. The payback period for investing in new warehouse management software is no more than a year, depending on the number of items in stock, throughput, and the amount of capital tied up in the warehouse.


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