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WMS WCS Integrations

Consider Long-Term Business Objectives and Trends When Implementing A WMS Or WCS

Why it’s critical to consider long-term business objectives and trends when implementing a WMS or WCS

It is a mistake to build a WMS or WCS based solely on current product mixes and order velocities. Instead, be sure to consider long-term objectives, as well as industry trends. Heed this cautionary tale: In the past, many distribution centers built their systems to exclusively convey cases.

Now, they are struggling with ‘eaches’ due to e-commerce shifts. Ultimately, the best WMS/WCS design is one that allows the business to adapt to changes and variability within supply chains.

How do WMS/WCS solve for inventory management on a job or project basis?

Inventory management on a project basis is a matter of inventory ownership. Even if most inventory is tied to a specific job or a specific project, there is almost always some inventory that is used in common. This common stock is usually low-valued items such as nuts, bolts, and washers. Even so, it needs to be included in the conversation about integrating a WMS or WCS with an ERP.

What is a typical timeline for an integration to a WMS?

Timelines for WMS integration projects vary. A good ballpark estimate is two to three months from the start of the project cycle to being able to test the integration in a test environment. Three elements are required to begin the project cycle: an understanding of the various roles of the systems being integrated, defined touch points, and defined functionality. Once those three elements are place, it is possible to define the error conditions and how to automatically recover from them. All of this is part of the design effort. Ultimately, the design needs to be put into a test environment, so that the error conditions can be tested to make sure both sides recover. Testing like that takes additional time, but it is worth it in the long run.

Where can we find information about specific WMS/WCS integrations to VLMs or other hardware?

For more information about specific WMS/WCS integrations to VLMs or other hardware, reach out to the hardware manufacturer. Every manufacturer has their own interface, message formats, and other details specific to that interface. Talk to the manufacturer to ensure your integration proceeds as effectively and efficiently as possible.

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WMS WCS Integrations

How to Succeed Integrating A WMS Or WCS With An ERP

How to Succeed Integrating A WMS Or WCS With An ERP

Successful integration of a WMS or WCS with an ERP requires knowledge of the process flow and data flow within the operation. Then, it is necessary to identify and understand where the pain points occur. Every warehouse or distribution center has unique challenges. For example, some customize their ERPs to control allocation of inventory.

They might prefer to spread inventory across multiple orders, portioning some to every customer instead of applying an entire shortage to one account. For an ERP to dictate inventory allocation like this it must be integrated with a WMS/WCS so that the information can be shared efficiently and effectively. The ERP needs to tell the Warehouse Management System (WMS)/ Warehouse Control System (WCS) what lot to allocate and pick and pack, and not only the quantity ordered, but also the distribution of that quantity across all of the orders. Understanding the unique role of each component—the ERP, WMS, and WCS—is vital. For instance, if an ERP is the system of record, the integrity of that system must be maintained.

What are the functional requirements that need to be defined with an ERP?

When integrating a Warehouse Management System (WMS) with an ERP, the functional requirements that need to be defined include any touch points between the two systems. These typically include the part master, receipts, orders, and uploads (put-away, pick/pack/ship, adjustments). Note: It is essential to identify the touch points in both directions—from the WMS upstream to the ERP, and from the WMS going downstream to the WMC or other peripherals. For example, if an ERP is the system of record for part number information, no downstream systems should be permitted to edit or create new part numbers. This is a best practice and ensures that the part number and part profile information are maintained in one system, the ERP.

In most cases, an ERP is also the system of record for procurement and order management and order entry. This receipt information is another touch point from ERP to a WMS or WCS. It is “inbound information” about inventory coming into the facility. There is also “outbound information,” which includes sales orders, production orders, and transfer orders, that require the system in a distribution center to pick the inventory and pack/ship it, or in a manufacturing facility, pick the inventory out of the stockroom and deliver it to assembly or the manufacturing floor.

Another important functional requirement to consider is inventory adjustment and deciding which system is the system of record for inventory is key. Some ERP systems can instruct a WMS or WCS to decrement inventory; however, it is more common for the WMS and WCS to be the system of record of where inventory is stored. The ERP system has the aggregate quantity on hand, but the WMS/WCS tracks the inventory at discrete locations and is best-suited for cycle counting, inventory counting, or physical counts.

What are the mechanics of integrating a WMS with ERP?

The basic mechanics of integrating a WMS with an ERP usually include staging tables, webservice, flat files, and other specific methods of integration depending on the ERP (e.g., RFC in SAP or message queues in other systems).

The term “staging tables” refers to database tables that are shared between an ERP and a WMS or WCS. These tables are either in the ERP database or the WMS or WCS database. They are called staging tables because they are not internal tables that the systems would use to process their own business logic and perform their own functions. Imagine a wall between these staging tables and the rest of the respective system. This imaginary wall, which is actually a gatekeeper requiring validation, ensures that a WMS cannot, for instance, directly update data in an ERP table. Likewise, an ERP cannot directly update data in a WMS table. Instead, all updates require a set of staging tables to protect both sides.

Integrating a WMS with an ERP often also requires webservices and flat files. The webservices needed are real-time and implementing them requires a special IT skill set. The flat file data can be in XML format so that it can easily be used in EBI transactions. Having lower-level systems that can create flat files in XML format can be a significant time-saver.

All of these methods of integration depend on the particular ERP being used. For example, most ERPs use remote function calls (RFC) for messaging, but others have their own unique message cues that must be adopted. Even so, the communication piece of integrating a WMS is fairly straightforward. The goal is that once a messages is sent by one system, the other system responds within the timeframe expected and all functions run according to spec.

Of course, not everything runs according to plan 100% of the time. This is especially true in distribution and manufacturing environments where tasks and processes are fast paced with many dependencies. Often, when one process doesn’t work perfectly, there is a domino effect. That is why, as part of the design phase of an integration, it is crucial to consider what could go wrong. In fact, working on error detection and recovery is a key part to any integration effort and usually, more time is spent designing the what-if scenarios than the actual touch points. This time and effort are worthwhile in the long run. Being able to detect and recover from errors in any integration can make the difference between a successful project with happy users and one where the users don’t want to even talk about their experience.

Integrating a WCS to an ERP or WMS

A WCS is a warehouse control system, and it can be integrated to an ERP, a WMS, or directly to material handling equipment, such as a VLM, a carousel, or an ASRS. There are some WCS systems that use a standard application programmable interface (API). These systems offer little flexibility in terms of integration and are not as complex as an interface to an ERP might be. In most cases, the WCS integration can be done with direct device control. That means, instead of communicating at a high level to another application, the integration can occur directly to material handling equipment. But since every equipment manufacturer has their own proprietary interface, it is critical to work with the equipment manufacturer to ensure understanding of the entire architecture.

Often the WCS is integrated to control inventory within these devices. For instance, in a vertical carousel, a WCS could manage each bin location, keeping track of what and how many is stored in each of those locations. An ERP is not well-suited for this type of inventory management. A WCS, by contrast, can communicate to the device so that the needed items are brought to the operator, but the WCS can only manage the inventory within that device.

What about inventory that isn’t stored in a device managed by a WCS? This is where the integration between a WCS or WMS and ERP comes into play. Without integration, a WCS or WMS could be managing movement of inventory in certain locations, while the ERP is managing aggregate inventory, without any knowledge of where that inventory exists in real-time. Integration solves that problem by ensuring all of these components work together to optimize workflows and processes.

What Additional Factors May Come into Play When Integrating A WMS Or WCS?

When integrating a WMS or WCS, it is also important to consider additional factors such as replenishment, slotting, and shelf life. In most cases, the replenishment transaction originates within ERP, and then the information is sent from ERP to the WCS. That way, the WCS learns that the inventory is coming and can find the right location to store it. Slotting involves using the WCS or WMS to determine optimal locations to store inventory. The main elements that factor into slotting are capacity, velocity, and dimension. Capacity refers to the number of items that need to be stored. Velocity refers to how long the item is expected to stay in storage. (Items that are picked and shipped quickly should be stored in the most easily-accessible location.) Dimension refers to the dimension of the item being stored, as well as the dimension of the location that’s available to store that item. Shelf life and whether FIFO is a requirement can also factor impact WMS/WCS integrations.

Integrating a WMS or WCS with peripherals

Peripherals are pieces of hardware that are used in the process flow of a distribution center or warehouse. Examples of peripherals include print-and-apply machines, barcode printers, weigh scales, X-ray machines, and devices used for reeled inventory in SMT shops. Each one of these peripherals generally has its own interface. So before integrating a WMS or WCS, it is essential to contact the OEM manufacturer or at least refer to the interface manual to ensure that the proper integration steps are followed. These devices use either a serial connection, an RF232, or a network connection. In today’s warehouse environments, most peripherals are networked; however, there are still some devices that only support serial connections. That is why it is important to know which interface is available and to order the proper equipment and associated kits to support that interface.

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WMS WCS Integrations

What Are the Main Considerations for Implementing A WMS?

What Are the Main Considerations for Implementing A WMS?

Before implementing a WMS, it is critical to consider a few key factors. Most notably, a WMS must be thoughtfully integrated with existing external systems, any WCS already in place, and all other relevant peripheral systems.

What does the word “integration” mean in the warehouse and distribution center environment?

In the warehouse and distribution center environment, the word “integration” refers to communication between systems. Those systems could be software systems, hardware controls, or any other type of peripheral. When integrated successfully, these systems are able to work together using a well-defined language that consists of a specific set of questions and answers. Integrations provide a variety of business benefits. They allow applications from different suppliers to be combined to create the most effective implementation.

What systems do WMS and WCS integrate with and what is the role of each?

WMSs and WCSs can integrate with upstream and downstream external business systems. Most commonly, the external business system they integrate with is an upstream enterprise resource planning (ERP) system; however, in manufacturing environments, there may also be integrations with downstream external systems, such as material requirements planning (MRP) systems, shipping systems, or transportation management systems (TMS).

Generally speaking, an ERP is designed to manage processes across the entire business. It is the system of record for a wide range of processes, including financials, forecasting, procurement, order management, production planning, and resource management. Although highly effective for managing those processes, ERPs are usually not optimal for real-time workflow optimization within a distribution center or stockroom.

A warehouse management system (WMS) is a specialized application used to manage all of the inventory activity within a distribution center or manufacturing facility. Typically, a WMS interfaces with an ERP system, using information from the ERP to manage workflow and optimize processes. It tracks inventory, regardless of where that inventory is stored. For example, a warehouse might have inventory stored in carousels, VLMs, flow racks, and other shelving locations. A WMS can manage inventory in all of these areas and provide a fluent, fluid, and seamless transaction going from one to another. A WMS can also interface downstream, integrating with other systems, such as a TMS.

WCS stands for warehouse control system. Unlike a WMS, a WCS cannot manage all storage areas within a distribution center or manufacturing facility. Instead, it can only manage automation. This automation can take many forms, ranging from routing cartons or totes on a conveyor system to material handling equipment, such automated storage retrieval systems (ASRS), vertical carousels, or vertical lift modules (VLMs). A WCS integrates with, communicates with, and controls these various automated material handling components within the overall solution. Any inventory in non-automated storage areas needs to be managed by an independent and separate WMS or ERP.

A WMS/WCS is typically more agile than an ERP. That is because a WMS/WCS has more tools and business logic available to manage and optimize workflows within a distribution center or stockroom. As a result, they are able to make localized improvements with far-reaching benefits for inventory control, customer service, assembly, QA, etc. Generally speaking, a WMS/WCS is also easier to change for adaptation to fluctuating business conditions.

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WMS WCS Integrations

What Are the Current Trends Impacting Supply Chains and Warehouse And Distribution Space?

Current Trends Impacting Supply Chains and Warehouse And Distribution Space

There are three significant trends currently impacting supply chains and warehouse and distribution space. These trends are: the shortage of warehouse and distribution space, labor availability, and accelerating e-commerce growth.

The shortage of warehouse and distribution space

Consumers are increasingly turning to online shopping and research suggests by 2025, an additional 1 billion square feet of warehouse and distribution space will be needed to keep up with this growing demand. But shoppers cannot wait for the build out of infrastructure; they want their orders fulfilled today. That is why more and more distribution center managers and supply chain leaders are working to maximize space in their current facilities. They are reconfiguring layouts to maximize vertical space and increase storage density while also implementing goods-to-person technologies including robotics, autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), and automated storage retrieval systems (ASRS).

Labor availability

The pandemic, competition from Amazon, and changing workforce expectations are all effecting labor availability. As a result, distribution center management and supply chain executives are seeking labor-saving solutions such as automation. In addition, they want to shorten the training time required to get their labor to productive rates sooner.

Accelerating e-commerce growth

Before the pandemic, e-commerce was growing steadily, but somewhat modestly. Then, in May 2020, e-commerce spending skyrocketed $82.5 billion—an increase of 77%. That expansion has continued and now nearly equals what was projected for the next four to six years’ growth combined. This unprecedented growth, coupled with the shortages in warehouse/distribution space and labor, is creating extraordinary challenges for supply chain leadership. Many are considering implementing a warehouse management system (WMS) and/or a warehouse control system (WCS) to meet these challenges.

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Warehouse Magement System

What Is The Difference Between WMS, WCS, And WES?

What Is the Difference Between Warehouse Management System (WMS). Warehouse Control System (WCS), and Warehouse Execution System (WES)

A true Warehouse Management System (WMS), when it’s not a bolt-on module, is the foundation for inventory management within a warehouse. It controls all inventory operations, including tracking, expiration date tracking, and numerous other details that an ERP would be hard pressed to keep track of with large scale inventories of 100,000—200,000 items.

A warehouse control system (WCS) is a software package that not only manages some forms of WMS functionality, but also controls automation equipment within that same environment. In other words, a WCS controls, directs, and manages vertical carousels, vertical lift modules (VLMs), horizontal carousels, conveyor systems, sortation systems, autonomous guided vehicles (AGV), automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS), goods to person (G2P), pick by light, put by light (i.e., put wall), hands free picking, robotic picking, and more.

A WCS interfacing with all these different technologies can sound quite complicated, but the level of complexity depends on the type of automation equipment under control and the capabilities the WCS. In fact, for most horizontal carousels, vertical carousels, and vertical lift modules (VLM), the WCS can be relatively straightforward. Other technological solutions, such as those involving robots, AGVs, and MDR conveyor systems, typically introduce more complexity.

A warehouse execution system (WES) is analogous to a task manager; it will execute on a specific task, but it can do tasks from the WMS and it can do tasks from the WCS. Some call it a “WMS lite.” A WES has some, but not have all, of the capabilities of a WMS.

Our WCS software capabilities interface directly with the underlying PLC-based controls so an extra OEM software system or integration point to communicate to automation PLCs is not required. This eliminates an entire layer of software complexity across a warehouse operation. A WCS can be considered the brains or the intelligence of the automation as opposed to the direct control of equipment. The underlying PLC machine controls execute the decisions dictated by the WCS or WES.

What type of operator training is required for WMS with WCS?

Operators do not need training on the software programs for the automation included in the WCS. From the user perspective, all WCS functioning happens in the background. Maintenance personnel will need to know how to service and maintain the different automated systems, but warehouse operators will only see the end result—e.g., that the carousel has spun and that the light bar is indicating the product that needs to be picked.

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Warehouse Magement System

How Does A Warehouse Management System Support Automated Storage Solutions?

How Does A Warehouse Management System Support Automated Storage Solutions?

Today’s software-based warehouse management system, WMSs often include warehouse control systems (WCSs) that are able to integrate with automated storage options such as conveyors, vertical carousels, or VLMs.

As a result, products stored in carousels can be delivered to pickers, who simply scan barcodes to record the warehouse picking process. That data then goes directly to the ERP. On their own, ERPs cannot integrate with or automate the hardware. WMS can also integrate with a WCS to support voice picking, pick to light, and print and apply.

How does a WMS support shipping?

The WMS communicates with both the ERP and the shipping module that is post-pick. This is a simple integration offering improved accuracy, efficiency, and convenience. Essentially, every time that a product is shipped to a customer, the tracking number goes into the transactions that go to the ERP. Then, the ERP can invoice the customer including the tracking number.

When is it time to consider moving from a paper-based system to a WMS?

Warehouse managers should consider moving from a paper-based system to a WMS as soon as they detect issues with shipping speed and accuracy. If throughput is not keeping up with demand, a WMS can help. Typically, problems with speed and accuracy are reflected in higher labor costs. For example, if a warehouse is experiencing a lot of overtime, the reasons could be related to issues with speed and accuracy. A WMS can improve processes so operators can work more efficiently. Finally, a WMS can help warehouse managers optimize storage density and maximize warehouse space.

What type of reporting is best for a warehouse?

Relying on ERP for reporting can be problematic because the ERP is not on the operations floor and does not function in real-time. That means there is always going to be lag time between what is really happening on the warehouse floor and what is being reported that is happening. By contrast, a WMS operates in real-time at the warehouse and presents a truly accurate account of inventory. If a warehouse manager needs real-time reporting on their operation, they need a software based WMS.

How does an advanced WMS platform generate reports?

A WMS can report on virtually all warehouse operations, ranging from receiving, inventory, and order picking to shipping and consolidation. Reports can also be more specific, such as put aways that have been entered into the system that haven’t been completed, replenishments that haven’t been fulfilled, etc. With a software based WMS, all of these reports can be generated in real-time. ERP systems cannot provide reports like these because ERPs lack real-time information and the ability to customize reports.

Why is a WMS better at handling an emergency situation such as an expedited order?

When a customer needs an order “right away,” a WMS can immediately make the appropriate adjustments to inventory and picking schedules. This is called hot picking. It is much more difficult to fulfill expedited orders and maintain accurate inventory records with a paper-based system. A WMS can also easily handle cross dock, returns, and other complex warehouse operations that are too complex for paper-based or ERP systems.

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Warehouse Magement System

Can Manual Warehouse Operations Be ERP Based?

Can manual warehouse operations be ERP-based? If so, what problems can arise?

Yes, manual warehouse operations can be ERP based; however, a variety of different problems can arise in these situations, particularly in large warehouse environments. For instance, when the lead or the manager uses printed paperwork to determine picking schedules, it can be difficult to keep all of the data straight and pages may get lost or misplaced along the way. Overstocks can also be problematic.

When a receiver cannot fit all of a product in one location, they need to find another place to store the remainder. If the location information or the quantity that was put in each location is wrong, or written down incorrectly or illegibly, then problems can arise. Since ERP does not offer real-time transaction data, any changes to what is in storage—either because of overstocks or picking—are not accounted for in real-time.

How does ERP handle batch picking, zone picking, and wave picking?

ERPs can have difficulty handling complex picking processes. For example, when there are waves, the first bundle of orders is generally picked and distributed first, before the second wave comes. However, in an ERP-based system, the information is not recorded in real-time. In many cases there is an operator sitting at a desk recording data on every order. That means there are two people—the picker and the person entering the data—involved with each order, and the warehouse manager may not be sure who, if either, is correct. If the picker is supposed to pick 10, but mistakenly only picked nine, but the paperwork says 10, the data entry person enters it as 10. The inventory won’t reconcile, and the customer is shorted. On the other hand, if the picker mistakenly picks 11 instead of 10, the warehouse loses money.

What is slotting and how is it associated with picking speed?

Slotting is the practical application of a statistical analysis for the SKU/product base in a warehouse distribution center or manufacturing facility. It consists of reviewing and analyzing the velocity or movement of items and associated cubic storage movement of those items relative to the other items. The goal is to determine optimal locations to store items and also make decisions about optimized automation systems to store and manage those items. Primarily, slotting improves labor, travel time and automation efficiency. The secondary by-product improvement is space utilization. A slotting analysis can help determine if a business is out of space or consuming too much space. If a business slots correctly and automates correctly, the footprint can often be significantly reduced.

A slotting analysis is based on the cubic dimensions of items, as well as their current and projected velocity. Velocity equates to the requisite travel time for an operator to pick the item over a given period of time. That means that the velocity of an item picked 1,000 times a month is much higher than the velocity of an item picked once a month. Velocity directly correlates to operator labor and travel time either in a non-automated environment or in an automated environment. It could be the wait or dwell time of the automation equipment for that particular item. Conducting a slotting analysis and making decisions about how to optimally slot items in the facility improves productivity substantially. Slotting analysis helps determine what type of automation equipment to use and generates the underlying ROI for re-slotting and/or automating the storage of any given set of SKUs or products.

The average warehouse associate spends 60% of their time traveling. In a warehouse that is properly slotted, travel time can be significantly reduced and that, in turn, lowers labor costs. Slotting can also increase the efficiency of automated storage equipment. In fact, all the dynamics of a warehouse can benefit from a slotting analysis since it improves average warehouse throughput, productivity by piece of equipment, productivity by picker, order turn-around time, and overall throughput to meet peak demands.

What is the difference between manual warehouse operations with an ERP and using an ERP with a WMS?

With a software-based WMS, operators use hand-held devices to do the inventory management and accounting. As soon as the operator hits “enter” on the device, that transaction is created and on the next iteration of communication with the ERP, the data is sent. This combination of WMS and ERP offers real-time inventory management, informing warehouse managers about exactly what happened and when. It’s much more efficient, faster, and more accurate than paper-based systems.

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Warehouse Magement System

When Do You Need A Warehouse Management System?

When Do You Need A Warehouse Management System (WMS)?

Warehouses are complex storage and distribution environments and ideally, a warehouse management system (WMS) should be in place as soon as warehouse operations start. That is rarely the case, however. Most warehouse managers begin looking for WMS when they start having problems with productivity, inventory control, and rising labor costs.

What are the downsides of a paper-based warehouse management system (WMS)?

Although warehouse operations such as receiving, put away, and picking may seem simple enough to track manually with spreadsheets at first, there are numerous downsides to using a paper-based WMS. For example, a paper-based WMS lacks accountability—it offers little to no verification that an operator has received inventory and put it away in the correct location. That leads to inaccuracies and inefficiencies. In addition, with a paper-based system, receivers and pickers working in the warehouse must stop whatever else they are doing (operating machinery, moving inventory, etc.) in order to manually update the WMS. Again, this often creates inaccuracies and inefficiencies—which ultimately lead to higher labor costs.

What are the benefits of a software-based WMS?

The biggest benefit of a software-based WMS is that it can track inventory automatically and in real-time. That means operators can work efficiently; they do not have to continually record inventory movement manually on paper spreadsheets. In addition, with a software-based WMS, inventory is accounted for accurately and effectively in real time.

What are the basic operations of a warehouse?

The basic operations of a warehouse include receiving, put away, picking, cycle counting, inventory reconciliation, storage, and shipping.

Receiving is the task of bringing items from a vendor into the warehouse for storage and ultimately, shipping. If receiving happens using a manual process, the receiver must handle the product or pallet, look through static racking to see where it will fit, and then physically place the product or pallet there. With a manual receiving process, there is little accountability about where or when the inventory is stored, and that can lead to problems with the accuracy of warehouse management.

During “put away,” the warehouse receiver verifies that all the inventory from a particular PO or vendor is stored appropriately. Again, if done manually, this process can be challenging. The receiver has to double check the stock number, description, and quantity of what was expected to arrive and record where it was stored—all by hand. Likewise, any discrepancies must be resolved by hand.

Picking is the task of selecting product to fulfill an order.

Cycle counting is a period of respite when warehouse operators compare what is currently in inventory with what is expected to be in inventory. In many warehouses, there is an inventory control department whose sole job is to ensure that the inventory in the warehouse is accurate. Usually, the more frequently warehouse operators cycle count, the more accurate the inventory is. Manual warehouse management usually yield cycle counts around 80 – 90 % accurate. With WMS, cycle counts can be as high as 99.8% accurate.

Inventory reconciliation involves comparing the inventory recorded in a WMS with an actual physical count of inventory on hand. It usually happens once a year. Maintaining a robust cycle count program in combination with an ERP that gives an accurate accounting helps warehouse managers know their true inventory at any given time. Generally, a cycle count program is scheduled once per month. Then, once per quarter, operators can extract out the inventory that is in the building and send that data to the ERP by item and quantity.

Shipping involves the distribution of picked products. When a WMS is used, it can communicate with both the ERP and the shipping module that is post pick. This is a simple integration, and every time product is shipped to a customer, the tracking number goes into the transactions that then go up to the ERP. Then, the ERP can create the customer invoice complete with the tracking number.

What kinds of problems can arise if warehouse receiving is handled manually?

When receiving is handled manually, warehouse operations are not as accurate or fast as they could be. For example, with a manual process, the receiver must record all of the inventory that comes into the warehouse. If the receiver is distracted or otherwise occupied, they may not get to this paperwork step until long after the product or pallet has been stored—and sometimes, their recollection of stock numbers, descriptions, quantities, and location can be inaccurate. These types of inaccuracies lead to inefficiencies and delays in picking and other warehouse operations.