WMS vs. Manual Systems: The Ultimate Showdown
Published on 25 May 2023
Supply chain operators and experts will readily tell you: in today’s markets, you simply cannot exaggerate the importance of effective warehouse management. The fact of the matter is that an operation that works “just fine” is no longer enough to be competitive.
They say the pen is mightier than the sword. Well, in the warehouse or distribution center, it turns out that a WMS proves far mightier than the pen when it comes to supporting your processes and maintaining accurate visibility on inventory. In this post, we briefly compare the two warehouse management strategies to highlight the added value of a WMS (Warehouse Management Systems) over traditional manual systems.
What are Manual Systems in Warehouse Management?
When speaking of manual systems in the warehouse, one refers to processes and operations that are supported by manual data entry. True: this traditional approach to warehouse management involves a lot of paperwork, human-performed inventory checks, and, in more mature operations, the process of copying data into the company’s ERP system.
Nevertheless, manual systems are not without merits and have been the backbone of warehouse operations for decades. They have stood the test of time, providing a degree of familiarity and predictability that some warehouse managers find reassuring.
For one, they are easy to implement, as they require no special technical knowledge. That simplicity can be attractive, especially to smaller operations with a small number of SKUs and limited IT resources.
Moreover, manual systems have relatively low upfront costs. With pen and paper-supported processes, companies don’t have to invest in expensive software or spend their precious capital to train their staff to use it. In essence, with manual systems, you're relying on human skill and experience.
What is a Warehouse Management System?
A Warehouse Management System (WMS) is a technology solution that keeps track of your inventory and automatizes warehousing operations, providing managers visibility into the movement of goods across their facility and network.
In the world of warehouse management, a WMS is often viewed as far more than just another piece of software. If properly configured, a WMS is a company’s ultimate ally, a comprehensive tool designed to optimize and automate operations, empowering operations with robust control over their inventory, labor, and storage capacity.
Better WMS solutions, such as the SOLOCHAIN WMS/MES by Generix Group, offer a wide range of functionalities. These systems can, for example, track every item, batch, and lot in real-time—in the warehouse and beyond—, giving companies the means to achieve efficient recalls when necessary. The data provided by a WMS can be leveraged by a company to improve its slotting strategy in order to maximize storage capacity and augment productivity. Some WMS, like SOLOCHAIN, enable warehouse managers to implement more advanced warehousing practices, such as task interleaving, to maximize their employees’ output and reduce their reliance on a large workforce.
Consider this: with a WMS like SOLOCHAIN, you're not just managing your warehouse, you're optimizing it. From intelligent order routing that reduces travel time to enhanced labor management that minimizes deadheading, a WMS brings a level of efficiency and precision that far exceeds traditional approaches.
The Showdown: WMS vs. Manual Systems
It should already be fairly obvious that a WMS delivers advantages in the warehouse or distribution center that remain well beyond the reach of manual systems. Nevertheless, let’s take a closer look at how the two strategies compare.
Efficiency and Productivity
When employees are required to manually note and record all changes and movements in inventory, it takes them much longer to perform their tasks. Furthermore, that information must then be processed and entered in the company’s ledgers or ERP system before managers and directors can get any visibility into their stocks. Such long processing times severely hinder a company’s ability to efficiently manage its inventory.
With a WMS, warehousing processes are automated. Leveraging handheld devices and scans, employees immediately inform the WMS of any changes in stocks. The WMS supports order picking, packing, and shipping to streamline operations and reduce the time spent on each order, which dramatically improves an operation’s overall output.
For example: consider the time it takes to locate an item in a 200,000 sq. ft. warehouse using a manual system versus a WMS. With a WMS to support them, your teams can quickly locate items based on real-time inventory data. As it knows the location of every item and the tasks that are queued in the system, the WMS can also instruct employees to perform additional tasks depending on where they are in the warehouse and what equipment is free to use. Through process automation and minimized deadheading, a WMS has a significant impact on productivity.
Meanwhile, with pen and paper in hand, workers will often spend a significant portion of their day merely walking around the warehouse, searching for the items they have been asked to retrieve at the beginning of their shift. The simple truth is that even the best warehouse manager cannot rival with the skills of a WMS.
Conclusion? When we put Warehouse Management Systems and manual systems head-to-head on efficiency and productivity, the WMS emerges as the clear victor.
Inventory Accuracy and Error Reduction
Manual systems, by their nature, are prone to human error. From data entry mistakes to misplaced inventory, such errors are costly and will impact your bottom line, leading to inaccurate inventory counts, inventory shrinkage, delayed shipments, and ultimately, dissatisfied customers.
A WMS, however, does away with most of these errors. Features like barcode scanning and real-time tracking ensure accurate data collection and inventory tracking. The SOLOCHAIN WMS/MES, for instance, is known to deliver near-perfect rates of inventory accuracy. Such inventory accuracy leads to more reliable stock management, fewer missed or delayed shipments, and improved customer service.
Again, the WMS comes out a clear winner.
Pen and paper are seemingly in the lead on that front, given their much lower initial costs. The question is: do manual systems remain cost-effective in the long run?
A WMS, despite the higher initial expenditure, delivers substantial long-term savings:
- Reduced labor costs due to automation
- Lower error rates
- Improved inventory management that minimizes inventory shrinkage and maximizes storage capacity
- Sustained increased productivity,
Let's consider labor costs, a singularly relevant warehouse management concern in these times of labor shortages.
All other things being equal, a manual system will always require a larger workforce to handle tasks such as order picking, inventory counting, and data entry. When employees have only pen and paper to support them in their tasks, their work requires more time to perform, which means more labor hours spent on repetitive and non-value-added activities.
With a WMS, most of these tasks are automated, which reduces the need for manual intervention. Not only does that enable employees to perform their tasks faster, it also frees up your workforce to focus on higher-value tasks that require critical thinking and problem-solving skills. As a result, you can optimize labor utilization and reduce the number of staff required to operate your warehouse efficiently—in some cases, the workforce can be reduced by 30% without affecting throughput.
When “Just Fine” Is No Longer Good Enough: Making the Switch to a WMS
When Should You Consider Implementing a WMS?
Deciding to switch from manual systems to a WMS is a decision that has the power to reshape your company’s entire future. A WMS is no small investment, and the system you choose will structure your operations for years to come. Knowing that, how can you tell when it's the right time to make the transition?
There are several indicators, telltale signs that let you know the time is ripe for implementing a WMS in your warehouse or distribution center. For instance, if inventory inaccuracies have been plaguing your operation, such as regular discrepancies during stock-taking or difficulties in reconciling inventory counts, it’s high time to consider a WMS. Similarly, if bottlenecks are frequently slowing down warehousing processes and items are crowding the aisles, you may want to find out what a WMS can do for you before you decide to move to another location.
Implementing a WMS in Your Warehouse
Implementing a WMS requires careful planning and execution to ensure a successful transition. Many WMS providers, such as Generix Group, not only specialize in supply chain management solutions but also leverage deep industry expertise to help clients find their way through the process.
The first thing you should do is to perform a thorough assessment of your warehouse operations and gather your WMS requirements. The assessment will help identify areas for improvement, set the objectives for the WMS implementation, and define the scope of the project. Meanwhile, by rigorously defining your requirements, you’ll be in a better position to short-list WMS solutions that are truly adapted to your needs.
If you need help defining your WMS requirements, you can use the RFP for WMS template developed by experts at Generix Group.
Next, you’ll want to ensure that the WMS solution is finely tailored to your requirements. The software should be configured to align with your unique warehouse processes. To ensure the best possible configuration, you should:
- Select a WMS provider able to demonstrate that it understands your industry.
- Opt for a highly configurable and adaptable system
Once the system’s configuration is complete, the implementation process can begin.
This process typically involves data migration, system integration, and user training. The existing data from your manual systems is documented and transferred to the WMS. Your WMS provider should be able to provide a detailed migration plan to ensure a seamless transition and maintain data integrity.
You’ll also want to integrate the WMS with your other systems. System integration enables the WMS to communicate other essential systems, such as your ERP or TMS. Doing so breaks down communication silos, lets all your teams rely on one accurate source of truth, and streamlines your end-to-end operation.
Throughout the implementation process, you will want to train future users and super-users. Your warehouse staff must become familiar with the new system and its functionalities before it Goes Live to ensure a smooth transition. Training sessions, workshops, and ongoing support will ensure that your team is equipped with the knowledge and skills required to maximize the benefits of the WMS.
The Competition Doesn’t Settle for “Just Fine” — Why Should You?
In the showdown between WMS and manual systems, it's evident that WMS comes out on top. From enhanced productivity to significant cost savings, a WMS delivers the advantages companies need to remain competitive and grow.
Generix Group markets robust WMS solutions, such as the SOLOCHAIN WMS/MES, and helps companies transition from manual systems to the future of supply chain management.
About Generix Group North America
At Generix Group North America, we provide a series of solutions within our Supply Chain Hub product suite to create efficiencies across your entire supply chain. Our solutions are in use around the world and our experience is second-to-none.
We invite you to contact us to learn more.
Download our Guide to the Warehouse of the Future
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