BLOG: do I really need a WMS for my warehouse?

WHY DO I NEED A WMS? I ALREADY HAVE AN ERP SYSTEM TO CONTROL MY WAREHOUSE?

At materials handling trade fairs you can usually choose from a wide range of presentations to sharpen your knowledge. According to the many "gurus" we can expect a further rise of robotics and automation in warehouse processes in 2018. But sometimes companies can benefit from only a few minor adjustments, such as the deployment of a good WMS to manage the activities on the work floor.

If we have a chat with visitors on our stand about implementing WMS solutions, we often get asked the following question:

“Why would we need an extra IT layer? Our ERP system already provides enough possibilities!”

First let's take a step back. Overall, one can say that there are three layers of IT within a company to hat supports the warehouse processes:

1. The ERP or Enterprise Resource Planning. This is software which supports all processes within a company. It is primarily a broad and comprehensive solution: the ERP contains master data and the system communicates with various subsystems. For example, the ERP delivers the warehouse its inventory data, product procurement and sales prices, purchases and customer orders.

2. The bottom layer is the WCS or the Warehouse Control System. This layer controls the mechanical part being the shuttle systems, conveyors, storage systems, PLC systems, order picking systems (eg. Pick-to-Light / voice picking systems) or any combination of these components. Think of this as a physical control system.

3. The WMS or Warehouse Management System provides a layer between the ERP and the WCS system, it controls the daily work (such as picking, product reception,  shipping or reporting). The WMS will get a lot of information from the ERP system and uses this for enhancing control. Results: faster delivery, better overview and control of inventory, fewer errors etc.

The above is quite a simplistic overview, we admit. In practice, however, the distinction between an ERP and a WMS is less clear as stated in the description above. There are ERP software solution with an impressive number of functionalities for the warehouse activity. And you can find dedicated WMS packages that offer only a limited number of possibilities. Or too many...

Our answer to the question in the title of this blog is: “"That depends entirely on the existing ERP system and the performance you require from your warehouse activity." A basic ERP and extremely high requirements for order picking and delivery (yes e-commerce!) usually do not go well together. A WMS can in such a situation really provide a boost in performance.

In logistics we believe there are no standard solutions. Each warehouse operation  has its own challenges and we are thrilled to make this puzzle over and over again.

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