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The biggest jump: Three key reasons for switching from paper to RF-directed operations

18 November 2019 / by Don White - SVP of Applications and Robotics for SnapFulfil North America

In order for your business to succeed, warehouse operations must grow: volume of orders, number of SKUs, labor resources needed to accomplish work, square footage, number of discrete bin locations. Each of those attributes increase at different rates, and each of them adds complexity.

Trained and proficient leaders handle that complexity. They schedule work, develop paper-based processes to direct resources, and organize inventory and operations to deliver productivity to their organizations. The “do-ers” in the warehouse also play a pivotal role in paper-based operations; they memorize inventory locations, imagine and employ effective sorting of paper and assignment of work, and creatively address their own challenges. Finally, outbound orders get packed and shipped. Over time, a warehouse will settle on expected productivity.

However, speed of growth can often outpace a leader’s ability to effectively adjust processes or find creative and proficient workers to accomplish the work. Even in the most disciplined paper-based warehouse, applying rigor and focus to process improvements, improving the supporting technology becomes the next best way to gain efficiency and accomplish work.

Over the next few months, our blog will explore what comes after you’ve made the decision to upgrade from paper to a best-of-breed WMS: the selection, implementation and go-live processes. But to set the stage, I’d like to discuss three key benefits that often lead companies to transition from paper-based operations to RF-directed operations:

1. Improved Labor Productivity

At the most basic level, the move to RF-directed operations can help logistics leaders better structure the work and efforts of an individual picker. A quality WMS structures work much more efficiently and quickly than people can: creating batches, defining the size of those batches and constraining them by weight, dimensions or according to the equipment needed to effectively pick them, are all critical.

Delivering the instructions in a way that is easily understood and accomplished by warehouse workers cuts down on the amount of time pickers spend moving about the warehouse floor to complete a single batch. It also allows for more rounds of picking within a shift.

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2. Improved Work Quality

There’s a specific and measurable cost to any error committed during a warehousing operation. That cost may be monetary, such as lost revenue caused by damage from mishandling, or opportunistic, such as the time spent on corrective actions to fix a receiving or shipping error.

An RF-directed workflow offers scanning and validation that lowers error rates across operations. More than just data collection, RF-directed workflows lead warehouse workers through proper processes. Most often, quality improvements present themselves in overall inventory validity; however, where inventory attributes (Receipt Date, Lot/Batch Code Management, Expiration Date Management, etc.) drive warehousing requirements, an RF-directed WMS also ensures proper management of the associated inventory.

3. Improved Information Availability

A warehouse is the physical expression of why a goods-based company exists: to fulfill customer demand and generate revenue. Management of this important facet of any company requires quality and timely information.

Moving from paper-based operations to RF-directed operations provides leaders and decision makers volumes of data. Inventory, labor, performance, financial and operational information can all reside within a WMS. RF-directed processes ensure the WMS actively manages stored information and require warehouse workers to collect the valuable data. Passively, each scan is timestamped and includes core information (Item SKU, Bin location, Quantity needed). Actively, warehouse workers’ efforts can be scripted via RF-directed workflow to capture nearly any other information needed for process improvement (e.g. distance traveled, issues with inventory accuracy, congestion, equipment status).

Today’s Warehouse Isn’t Built For Paper-Based

As e-commerce becomes the preferred choice for shoppers, products are flying off warehouse shelves far faster than big box shelves. RF-directed processes, enabled by a best-of-breed WMS, are table stakes for any retailer looking to remain relevant. Paper simply can’t handle the complexity of an always-on distribution center or warehouse.

In the coming weeks, we’ll discuss the steps required in moving your warehouse to a best-of-breed WMS, what to expect during the implementation process, and how to achieve the best possible return on investment from your warehouse’s digital transformation.

 

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