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Supply chain visibility is the latest rallying cry among warehouse management system providers.

by Tom Andel, chief editor

T he new challenge for WMS vendors is to provide customers with supply chain visibility — and convince them that it’s a competitive advantage. That was the message delivered during a regional seminar hosted by the Logistics Execution System Association (LESA), a product group of the Material Handling Industry of America (MHIA).

The full-day program, offered in Cincinnati last December, and soon to take place in select cities around the U.S. throughout 2002, began with a keynote speech by John Hill, principal of eSYNCH International. Hill says that technology alone can’t make you more competitive.

“We have more tools than we know what to do with,” he adds. “The challenge is picking the right one. No amount of technology, no matter how intelligent or integrated, can make up for a lack of ownership by the users. Get them involved [in technology selection.]”

Once you have your team assembled, look for solutions that are configurable and scalable. Not all WMS packages are alike. Differentiators include unit of measure conversion, order planning and scheduling, inventory allocation, location management, shelf-life monitoring, lot and serial number tracking, cycle counting, task assignment and monitoring, and reverse logistics.

The variation among packages makes it important not to rush into a selection. Nine months is an average implementation time, although two months is not unheard of among experienced users.

Best use of time

Experienced users were profiled briefly at the seminar. Sony Canada, for example, worked with McHugh Software to do a Logistics Operation Analysis of supply chain visibility requirements, training methods and workflow. Sony even did mock shift tests, concentrating a full shift’s activities into the space of an hour to give everyone on staff and in the field a realistic picture of what they’d need from a WMS.

Lessons Sony Canada took away from this experience?

“Four weeks should be a minimum project length,” says McHugh’s Noah Dixon, “but if you’ll be introducing changes and risk, add two months at least.”

Competitive advantage

Properly implemented, a WMS can help its owner provide customer services that competitors can’t. That was the case with Smithers Oasis, a leader in the floral products business. It worked with Lilly Software to come up with a solution to improve service to customers, from floral shops to distributors. It also wanted to improve margins through cost cutting.

After reviewing its operations, Smithers Oasis found poor warehouse space utilization and poor inventory accuracy, leading to extra work.

It had 250,000 square feet of leased warehouse space spread all over Akron, Ohio. There was no inventory visibility or control. Smithers Oasis consolidated those operations into one 60,000-square-foot facility featuring narrow storage aisles and man-aboard wire-guided swing reach trucks with radio frequency (RF) picking. The company integrated Lilly’s Visual DCMS with the existing ERP system and got up to speed in four months. Lilly’s Stanley Chew says because this project involved a design/build facility, it imposed a strong imperative for hitting completion dates.

Smithers Oasis now enjoys improved available-to-promise capability, and cut two days out of its inventory carrying costs — even with a tripled SKU count.

Talking to the yard

Owens Corning was fairly satisfied with its WMS, but it was 12 years old, and eventually the vendor wouldn’t support it. This manufacturer of glass fiber thermal and sound insulation used this as an opportunity to look for a state-of-the-art WMS and to standardize logistics operations among all its business units. This meant establishing control over three million square feet of storage spread among seven sites — in 12 months.

The project entailed tight integration between a WMS and a yard management system (YMS). In this application, maintaining trailer inventory was as important as product inventory; 750 truckloads are shipped daily, each containing from a single line item to more than 50. Necessary WMS features would include crossdocking, wave planning and trailer loading.

Provia Software was the WMS vendor of choice. It helped Owens Corning integrate the ViaWare WMS with the existing SAP system and establish real-time RF communication between the WMS and the yard jockeys.

As a result, Owens Corning increased personnel and equipment utilization and established real-time visibility of warehouse and yard operations.

Attendees of LESA’s first regional seminar were from a wide variety of industries, but all came away from the event with a better idea of how they can improve visibility in their supply chains.

For more information on the next LESA seminars, to be held in Dallas on January 29 and in Orlando on January 31, go to www.mhia.org/LESA/seminars. Then call 800-643-3018 to register.

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