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Wholesale Distribution Operations: Getting Your Warehouse Operations under Control with Barcodes and Scanning

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009 by admin

Many of the wholesale distributors we meet who are engaging in a wholesale distribution software selection process have a common set of issues.  In general, they are printing pick tickets on paper, handing the print ticket to the next available picker, and telling the picker to go forth and pick.  In doing so, the picker takes the paper pick ticket around the warehouse and writes on the paper to show what has or has not been picked.  Some time later, after the picking process is done – most likely a shift or full day later after the picking has been completed – the paper pick ticket with the picker’s hand-written notes ends up in the possession of an administrator who enters the pick data into the distributor’s existing computer system.

Since there most likely is a substantial time delay between the picking and manual data entry processes, coupled with the fact that the picker’s chicken-scratched notes may be highly illegible, there will likely be errors introduced into the inventory data.  In cases in which the administrator can’t understand what the picker was attempting to convey, the administrator may have a discussion with that picker about their notes.  Again, depending on the time delay between the picking and writing on the pick ticket through this conversation with the administrator attempting to enter the data, inventory accuracy issues can get introduced due to time delays and the possibility that the picker may not even remember what their notes meant.

Even if the manual pick, writing on paper, and manual data entry processes were 100% accurate, they would nonetheless be untimely and inefficient, as there would always be some delay between the time picking was completed and the time data was entered into the system.

Alternatively, for companies using strong wholesale distribution software systems that come with fully-integrated warehouse management functionality like Enterprise 21, when barcodes and scanning are introduced into the process, the system would know the disposition of the picking process immediately at the time a picker was performing those operations.  Furthermore, since the scanning process can also confirm that the item that was intended to be picked was in fact picked correctly, inventory accuracy and customer shipment accuracy will increase.  This should lead to a reduction in the number of customer returns due to mis-shipment of items on an order and an increase in customer satisfaction.

Without accurate and timely inventory data, the ability to leverage that information to have the correct product mix while reducing the wholesale distributor’s overall inventory position are an impossibility.  Companies using Enterprise 21 can achieve these benefits through the introduction of barcodes and scanning throughout the warehouse including the picking process without having to acquire any additional application software.

Wholesale Distribution Software: Big Productivity Gains Await Distributors Who Ship Small Package Deliveries

Monday, October 19th, 2009 by admin

Many of the wholesale distributors with whom we work have common characteristics when we first become acquainted with each other.  Many are selling items which can be packed and shipped via small package delivery services.  And, most of these distributors are performing their picking operations via paper-based print tickets on a one-to-one ratio – one sales order equals one pick ticket.

Some of the biggest operational efficiencies these distributors can gain from wholesale distribution software solutions like TGI’s Enterprise 21 come from combining and performing picking for multiple orders concurrently.  Within Enterprise 21, this functionality is called cart picking.

Enterprise 21 collects a series of picks for various sales orders based on the business rules a given organization defines within the system.  Once a pick is generated, Enterprise 21 leads the given warehouse operations person through the facility in an optimized path to minimize transit time between picks.  This can be done with either paper-based or paperless picking.

When cart picking is combined with barcode scanning, the Enterprise 21 system prompts the picker to pick a given quantity of an item from a specified bin location and to place that item in a specific tote or location on their picking cart.  When the first item is being picked, the picker scans the item and an associated tote location on the picking cart.  At this point, the system knows that a given order’s picks are associated with that specific cart location.  When the picker is prompted to pick the next item, if it is associated with this same order, they are prompted to place it in this same tote location.  Should they be picking an item for a second order, however, they would be prompted to scan a second cart location to be associated with the second order.

The system will continue to prompt the picker to place items into an associated tote location or to select a new location for the next order being picked.  Should the picker attempt to scan and place an item associated with one order into a cart location associated with a different order, the system will alert them that this is not the correct location for this order and once again prompt them with the correct cart location.  Once all the associated picks for the given picker-cart combination are finished, the picker would take the cart to the packing location.

Next, Enterprise 21 would prompt the packer as to which specific standard carton sizes should be selected for use for a given sales order shipment and which items should be placed in each given box.  The system would generate a carton label for each box.  As the packer scans the items into the given cartons, the system would confirm that the items were in fact associated with the specific order shipment being created.  As part of the packing process, Enterprise 21 also generates the desired shipping paperwork including packing slips and pro forma invoices.

Once the packing process has been completed and the cartons are sealed, the boxes would then be handed off to the shipping department.  Shipping would then run the boxes through the appropriate shipment manifesting systems (i.e., UPS, FedEx, etc.) and ship the various boxes.  Enterprise 21 is fully-integrated with these shipment manifesting systems, so the order status would be updated immediately upon shipment.  Enterprise 21 also generates all appropriate customer transactions resulting from the shipping process including delivery of an advanced shipping notification (ASN) in the customer’s preferred format and method of delivery (fax, email, or EDI).

The combination of Enterprise 21’s fully-integrated warehouse management system functionality when used in conjunction with RF/barcode-enabled scanning technology, including cart picking and wireless warehouse management capabilities, can lead to substantial improvements in warehouse operational efficiencies while minimizing shipping errors.

Three Benefits to the Wireless Warehouse

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009 by Alex Smith

A key functional element to any wholesale distribution software solution is an integrated warehouse management software system that provides distributors the ability to operate their warehouse in a completely wireless, paperless environment. A wireless warehouse that utilizes RF and barcode technology can streamline warehouse processes, decrease the likelihood of data entry errors, and improve worker productivity. While there are hundreds of benefits to a wireless warehouse, here are three:

Directed Picking. Directed picking utilizes RF devices to prompt warehouse workers to pick items using an optimized picking path that reduces overall time spent during the picking process. Rather than a warehouse worker simply looking at a pick ticket and traveling around the warehouse in a completely random order, the RF device can instruct the worker to pick items on a pick ticket from their associated locations within the warehouse in a logical sequential order that reduces worker transit time from one location within the warehouse to another. This feature can streamline the pick process and reduce average picking time to improve warehouse efficiencies and lead to increased worker productivity and daily shipping volume.

Accurate Data Entry. Using RF and barcode technology can greatly decrease the likelihood of data entry errors in receiving, picking, and shipping. Lot numbers, for example, which can frequently be several characters long, can easily be scanned and recorded in the ERP system via barcodes and scanning devices with little to no manual data entry. Deploying these devices for use in the warehouse for receiving, picking, and shipping can result not only in faster, more efficient data processing but improved data integrity and product tracking as well.

Faster Physical Inventory and Cycle Counts.
A common process many distributors deploy for physical inventory and cycle counts is to have a warehouse worker walk throughout the warehouse with a clipboard and piece of paper, manually count and record the quantities of each product in the warehouse, walk back to his or her computer, and then manually enter the recorded inventory quantities into the organization’s software system or Excel. This process, needless to say, can lend itself to a number of problems. First, manually counting and recording inventory quantities takes a painful amount of time for people in the warehouse. Secondly, manually counting and recording inventory quantities on paper and then entering those values into the computer increases the likelihood of data entry errors and diminishes the integrity and accuracy of the counted values. By using barcodes and scanning devices in the warehouse, workers can complete their physical inventory and cycle counts in a timely, efficient manner. Furthermore, by scanning items, the recorded quantity of items is directly recorded in the ERP system, eliminating multiple steps to complete the same process while simultaneously improving data accuracy and integrity.

When is Your Small Business Ready for an ERP System?

Friday, June 12th, 2009 by Alex Smith

A common question small business owners ask themselves is when their business is ready to implement an ERP software application that will replace their existing small business software. Fortunately for the small business owner, there are a number of small business ERP software solutions on the market today that serve as a viable replacement for QuickBooks, Peachtree, and other small business accounting software packages. In my experience, there are three telling signs of when a small business is ready to migrate from its existing small business software to a more sophisticated ERP system.

First, the small business is operating in a multitude of software packages based on a given department within the organization. Accounting personnel make journal entries in QuickBooks; warehouse managers enter data into Excel; sales representatives use ACT, Goldmine,, or some other customer relationship management software solution; and for production and scheduling, well, sometimes there are small businesses that abandon the concept of using software for production altogether and revert to more archaic methods – I recently visited a food processing company that had its production manager hand-write the week’s production schedule on a chalkboard! The problem with this lack of integration between software packages is that it leads to a lack of organizational and business process integration. Divisions and departments begin to operate independently of one another or develop into individual silos of activity and information. Access to information in a given department becomes highly dependent on the software package used to process transactions and the associated person entering the data. This level of independence between various departments poses a serious problem for the small business owner who needs to manage the overall success of all of his or her business’ operations and makes it substantially more difficult for the owner to identify what areas of his or her business need improvement.

A second sign that a small business is ready to move to an ERP system is that duplicate data entry and data processing has become a common practice within the organization. When operating a business in multiple software solutions, it is common to have employees enter the same data into two or more different software packages. This poses two problems to the business. First, duplicate data entry consumes workers’ time and leads to operational inefficiencies and added time costs to perform a given transaction. Secondly, duplicate data entry increases the chances of having data entered incorrectly or inaccurately, thus leading to more workers’ time spent trying to correct the problem and keep key business data up to date and accurate. A fully-integrated ERP software solution can help remedy these problems and provides immediate benefits to the organization. By having all employees enter data into a singular software package, there is no need to enter data more than once. This can reduce employee time spent on data entry and provide employees more time to perform their daily tasks, hopefully leading to an increase in worker productivity and overall business productivity and output. Small businesses can even see substantial reductions in time spent performing period and year-end processing with a fully-integrated software solution.

Lastly, one of the most common signs that a small business is ready to implement a sophisticated ERP system is that the business suffers from frequent inventory shortages for some items and dramatic inventory surpluses for other items. I frequently hear many small business owners offer the complaint that they are frequently out of stock on their most popular items. They even complain that they suffer from inventory shortages of the packing materials required for their most popular items. An ERP system with tight inventory control, a comprehensive warehouse management system, and sophisticated forecasting and planning capabilities can ensure that sufficient inventory of a given item is available to meet customer demand without excessive on-hand inventory levels; in fact, a true ERP software system can help the organization increase order fill rates and improve customer service while simultaneously reducing on-hand inventory levels. This leads to reduced inventory costs, improved customer service, and increased profitability, giving the small business a significant advantage over its competition.

Wholesale Distributors Enjoy Flexibility When Implementing Enterprise 21 Warehouse Management Functionality

Monday, May 4th, 2009 by admin

A common discussion we have with wholesale distributors revolves around how they can best implement Enterprise 21’s warehouse management system. The great majority of these distributors envision moving to a completely paperless warehouse environment where warehouse workers are prompted via handheld and fork lift-mounted devices to perform the next highest priority task in their work queues.

Prior to moving to Enterprise 21, all of the distributors with whom we work were using some form of paper in their warehouse operations. Most of these organizations had their warehouse personnel writing on paper pick tickets as they went through the picking process and had the data electronically entered into their existing legacy systems hours later. Others may have been using a combination of paper and some scanning when they initially approached TGI.

In the case where there was manual recording of results, a paper pick ticket was printed and associated with each given sales order. Warehouse personnel would take the paper pick ticket, walk through the facility, and pick the items associated with that order. As the workers picked the order(s), they wrote the results of their efforts on the paper pick ticket, especially noting any places where there were discrepancies in the number of items picked or locations from which they picked. Some time later (and in many cases, much later), warehouse operators gave their hand-written picking results to an administrator for keying this information into their legacy system.

This paper-based process presented several challenges. First, there were delays between the time the physical transactions occurred and when those transactions were recorded into the system. Second, the one who recorded the data into the system was frequently not the same person who performed the physical transactions. In this case, there were opportunities for recording incorrect data when the written results were illegible and the data entry person made his or her best guess as to what was recorded. Because of these practices, the information in the computer system was inaccurate and generally not trusted. By moving to a real-time inventory system, such as Enterprise 21, where transactions are recorded in the system at the point and time in which they occur, inventory data becomes more accurate and timely.

In addition to improving inventory accuracy, distributors can take advantage of more efficient warehouse processes in Enterprise 21. One of the major advantages that organizations who ship a lot of small package deliveries can gain from Enterprise 21 is moving to a cart picking process. When doing cart picking, rather than performing picking on an order-by-order basis, warehouse personnel can perform a consolidated picking process for multiple orders concurrently, thus reducing labor consumed compared with picking each order on its own. Once a cart picking process is completed, the cart is moved to a packing location where the various orders on the cart are packed and prepared for shipment. Enterprise 21 can also enable warehouse operations to take advantage of other warehouse efficiencies including zone picking and wave picking.

The warehouse management software functionality in Enterprise 21 is fully-integrated with the entire Enterprise 21 ERP software application. Since this functionality is built into Enterprise 21, TGI customers do not have to try to keep separate systems in sync with each other or have to worry about what will occur to their ERP to WMS interface when they upgrade one of these systems.

A major advantage of Enterprise 21’s warehouse management system is that new TGI customers can elect to start their initial operations at system go-live at any point on the functionality continuum, from printing of paper pick tickets and manually recording the data to fully paperless operations. Over time, distributors can continue to streamline their operations and take advantage of more and more of the process efficiencies afforded by Enterprise 21.

By implementing the warehouse management functionality in Enterprise 21, distributors can improve inventory accuracy and gain operational efficiencies in a manner that can best be assimilated into their warehouse operations.