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What are the top ways to improve warehouse efficiency?

Today's warehouses have different issues than the warehouses of yesteryear, so it's critical to understand the role technology serves. Here's a look.

Warehouse efficiency has never been more important, and having the right systems is critical.

Supply chain trends toward faster delivery and direct-to-consumer sales such as omnichannel are putting more emphasis on warehouse operations. The need to increase efficiency and achieve a higher level of performance is vital. The right technologies can help.

Warehouse automation systems and warehouse management software have been around for decades. They continue to improve along with other advances in technology such as AI and IoT. Earlier warehouse systems mostly focused on reducing labor and moving bulk goods faster through the warehouse. The bigger need today is for flexibility. While efficiency and speed are still important, the improvements must focus on handling smaller quantities of a wider variety of goods quickly and efficiently.

Mechanization in warehouses

Material handling technologies such as conveyor systems, storage and retrieval automation, and robotics are still important for getting cases and pallets of goods into, around and out to the shipping area. But more important in today's environment are facilities and equipment that support the pick-pack-ship area of warehouse operations. Existing facilities such as carousels, pick-to-light and gravity-feed racks are being supplemented or replaced by robotic systems that bring the goods directly to the packer just when needed to fill an order.

These automation systems are tied directly to order management and inventory systems, which have evolved to support this level of end-to-end information management.

The importance of ERP

Choosing the right ERP system is the foundation of a well-run warehouse. It needs to capture and manage order information, keep close track of inventory in conjunction with the warehouse management systems, and interact with material handling and robotic systems to create a seamless fulfillment process. The best ERP systems carry through to the shipping process, which is either a transportation management system or software provided by package delivery partners such as UPS and FedEx to take care of routing, load planning and scheduling along with optimized freight.

Using existing software in modern warehouses

Between mechanical automation and comprehensive, integrated software systems, warehouse operations can be both efficient and highly flexible. And the best news is that existing systems and software can provide the base. Most of these incumbent systems can be upgraded and adapted to work with the newer developments. Most companies will not have to rip out and completely replace existing ERP, warehouse management, transportation management and material handling systems, as long as they are designed for integration and are up to date with the developers' maintenance and improvement releases.

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