Big data and analytical tools in warehouse production.

My last article was about the negative effects of micromanagement. It is easy to start micromanage in a warehouse, especially if you have a WMS where you can see detailed KPI at an individual level. Of course, you should use the KPI to look at deviant trends etc but not several times a day and give the staff feedback each time. Keep in mind that your staff will work for many years and that high sick leave and high staff turnover cost a lot of money.

In order to increase efficiency and/or quality, you need to analyze the current workflow and work methods. For that, you must be able to collect and work with clear and reliable data. This is one of the reasons I propagate for an established WMS. The analytic tools is definitely features to look at when investing in a WMS. The system should also have a good interface to connect to other systems like for example TMS (transport management system) and/or LMS (labor management system) If you have a large warehouse, it is even more important that you have good analytic tools because it is too complex to find all the time thieves manually.

Something important to keep in mind is that the quality of the data you get out of the system will never be better than the data you get into the system. For example basic data such as volume, weight, etc.

Examples of features for analyzing is:  inventory optimization tools that can help you plan your warehouse layout and picking routes based on shortest forklift driving distance or picking frequency; replenishment analysis specific to customers or target regions; workforce management tools that track total and individual time for each department and task in the warehouse and also can give you forecasts regarding man-hours you need at each department. Some WMS have simulation and visualization tools to make it easy to find time thieves and areas in the warehouse where you can improve the flow. The system can help you locate bottlenecks in the flow. It is easy to place too many high-frequency items in the same aisle or rack.

When you reach a certain point where you feel that your employees have a great pace and their performance have reached the limit you need to work scientifically (with facts) and methodical with help of data and analytical tools to take your warehouse performance to the next level. You need to look at where you spend most hours in the warehouse and how you can make that area more efficient, maybe with help of features in your WMS. You want as few human “touches” on the products as possible from the products arrive to the products leave the warehouse. Every touch or every extra meter on the forklift decrease the value of the product. With good analytical tools, you can make these “touches” and extra meters visible and change the flow to the better. In addition, with help of performance tools in WMS you can see the effects of your changes.

Big data will be an increasingly important part of the work to develop warehouse production. I think those WMS vendors who will be successful in the future must broaden their product portfolio with more advanced modules. They must be able to offer for example, integrated LMS, TMS and advanced interfaces to connect with IoT hardware like forklifts, RFID, tablets and smartglasses. They must also be able to gather and consolidate data in a good way, as well as be able to visualize the information to the management teams.

Remember; for a successful warehouse, you need to be able to collect and analyze data and make use of it together with great leadership and communication skills.

Roberth Karlsson

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