Warehouse Management Systems

What is a Warehouse Management System? Definition & sources!

| Author / Editor: Benedikt Hofmann / Theresa Knell

The integration of wearables has become an important functionality of Warehouse Management Systems.
The integration of wearables has become an important functionality of Warehouse Management Systems. (Source: Ehrhardt + Partner)

Today, no state-of-the-art logistics system above a certain size can do without a Warehouse Management System. The selection and implementation of a WMS is not an easy task. Read on and pick the right system for the individual needs of your company's internal warehouse management.

If you talk to Günter Dietze about Warehouse Management Systems (WMS), one thing quickly becomes clear: The man knows what he's talking about. Of course, he should, since the expert from the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics (IML) works in the Warehouse Logistics team, which runs an online portal for WMS selection, among other things. We have met him to talk about warehouse management systems and the various solutions and vendors on the market.

The different WMS providers

Dietze makes an important classification right at the beginning: "In principle, we can distinguish between three categories of WMS providers:

  • Suite providers,
  • Automation experts and
  • Pure WMS providers.

So, we get three comparative groups, which can only be compared to each other to a limited extent, because their offers differ a lot.” It is up to the companies to find out which category best suits their needs.

Is every warehouse management system the same?

This is an important question you need to answer if you are looking for a new WMS: to know what you need - not only in the present, but also in the future. "Such a Warehouse Management System software is expected to run for ten to twelve years. So, you should think about how the situation of the company develops until then," explains Dietze. Purchasing a WMS that exactly meets the challenges of the present can therefore result in major problems for the company as early as next year or the year after that.

Checklist for the purchase of a Warehouse Management System

If you deal with the incredibly wide field of WMSs, the question inevitably arises whether there are big differences or whether the products are very similar in their core functions. The expert is convinced that the latter does not apply and refers to the three types of Warehouse Management System providers. For instance, companies with a technical background have a different approach to software than, for example, suite providers who originally offered ERP systems.

Additional functions make the difference in Warehouse Management Systems

The most obvious differentiation criteria are the additional functions they offer. These are functions of the WMS that are not part of every logistical process, for example, options in the area of invoicing, value-added services or customs connections. But this can also include functionalities that sound banal at first but can lead to major problems if they are not considered prior to the implementation of the WMS. Imagine, for example, your company has an office in China, and you do not include this fact in your preliminary specifications. Later you find out that your brand-new WMS cannot display Chinese characters - a Super-GAU. The fact that a Warehouse Management System is multilingual does not necessarily mean that it contains all fonts and languages. "The database software used in the company can also be a criterion. If a company uses Oracle, for example, the Warehouse Management System must of course also be compatible with databases from this provider," says Dietze.

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Change of the Warehouse Management System? Things to keep in mind!

Even if you are thinking about changing your Warehouse Management System, there are specific questions you should deal with at first:

Is a change really necessary? Dietze describes a case that is intended to clarify what he means by that: "I received a call from a customer who told me that he was no longer satisfied with his WMS at all. When he described his WMS to me and I inquired which provider it was, I noticed that his description in no way coincided with the experiences I had made with this provider just shortly before. It turned out that the customer had not been in contact with the provider for five or six years and had not noticed the developments that were made during that time. So, I recommended to get in touch with his current provider. He did so and the question of replacing the software was off the table very soon.”

What weaknesses does your current WMS have in daily work? The reasons for a changeover may already be the first requirement for the new system. Of course, you should also consider the current processes and what improvement potential a change can offer. This also applies to processes that are not yet supported by the software, but which could benefit from it in the future.

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Attention - successful implementation of Warehouse Management Systems!

When introducing a WMS for the first time, there are a few things keep in mind. In the second box on this page, we have summarized the steps that should not be missed during the implementation phase. According to Dietze, a fundamental issue that should be clarified at the very beginning of the project is the question of resources. This applies both to the employees and to the time required. Anyone who does not provide the necessary capacities at this point will surely regret it later.

Warehouse Management Systems at a glance

In order to give you a brief impression of the WMSs available on the market, we would like to present a few solutions below:

According to Dietzes, Viastore is certainly a hybrid, because the company, which was originally a supplier of intralogistics systems, has been moving more and more into the software sector in recent years and has established its own company for this business area - Viastore Software. In addition to the integration of SAP systems, Viastore Software also develops and distributes its own Warehouse Management System called Viadat. According to Markus Müllerschön, Vice President Sales at Viastore Software, the system is a cross-industry solution for both small warehouses with low turnover and distribution centers with several hundred thousand order lines per day. The system is therefore suitable for automated systems, conventional manual as well as forklift-operated systems and is also used for commissioning with Pick-by-Light, Pick-by-Voice or Pick-by-Vision. According to Müllerschön, one of Viadat's particular strengths is that it masters the management and control of all automation systems available on the market. "Thanks to our agile project methods and the convenient configuration wizard, Viadat can also be implemented quickly, is very easy to use thanks to its intuitive user interface, and offers a cockpit where anyone can compile the information they need using a widget," says the expert.

With its PSM product family, automation expert Aberle offers a solution for companies of all sizes and industries. However, the focus is not surprisingly on automated intralogistics warehouses. "The solution is modular and can be extended at any time. At the same time, the solution remains scalable. The required functions are available as part of a comprehensive standard modular kit, but can always be customized and extended," says Stefan Weisshap, Head of Software Consulting & Project Planning at Aberle. Furthermore, according to Weisshap, the software core is very robust and powerful, ensuring a high performance even in large installations. In addition, an iPad app, the freight module, modules for mobile data and forklift terminals are available. Statistics modules monitor the progress at any time.

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For Ehrhardt + Partner software is in the focus. The result is LFS.wms, which according to the company grows with the needs of the user. "New locations or clients can be quickly and easily connected. With our private cloud solution, we also offer companies a powerful IT infrastructure that grows with them," says Dennis Kunz, Director Marketing at Ehrhardt + Partner. The Supply Chain Execution System LFS actively manages the entire logistical material and information flow and can control both manual and automated storage units as well as processes in transport logistics. The LFS.wms is an integral component and can, for example, be extended by the manufacturer-independent material flow computer LFS.mfc to control highly automated storage units. The system is platform and database independent and runs on Windows, Linux, I-Series, iOS and Android operating systems.

What does the future hold for Warehouse Management Systems?

When asked about future developments in Warehouse Management Systems, all manufacturers consider industrial and social developments such as digitalization and globalization as the most important drivers of these systems. One of the objectives will be to simulate and analyze the material flow even more transparently. A further challenge is that companies must take a holistic view, plan and control all tasks between logistics and production well as information and goods flows. WMSs of the future must therefore fit into the network of the entire company.

This article was first published by MM Logistik.

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