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A warehouse management system (WMS) is a software application, designed to support and optimize warehouse or distribution center management. They facilitate management in their daily planning, organizing, staffing, directing, and controlling the utilization of available resources, to move and store materials into, within, and out of a warehouse, while supporting staff in the performance of material movement and storage in and around a warehouse.
Warehouse management solutions are primarily tactical tools, purchased and used by businesses to satisfy the unique customer demand requirements of their supply chain(s) and distribution channel(s), when the inventory and workload is larger than what can be handled manually, with spreadsheets. Motivation to purchase generally comes from a need to support sales growth or improve performance, and occasionally both.
A WMS uses a database configured to support warehouse operations, containing detail describing a variety of standard warehouse elements including:
Daily management functions include
Warehouse management systems support warehouse staff in performing the processes required to handle all of the major and many minor warehouse tasks such as receiving, inspection and acceptance, put-away, internal replenishment to picking positions, picking, packing, order assembly on the shipping dock, documentation, and shipping (loading onto carrier vehicles). A warehouse management system also helps in directing and validating each step, capturing and recording all inventory movement, and status changes to the data file.
A warehouse management system usually represents the central unit in the software structure of a warehouse. The WMS receives orders from the overlying host system, mostly an ERP system, manages these in a database and, after appropriate optimization, supplies them to the connected conveyor systems.
This becomes clear when you look at the processes necessary for e-commerce: as soon as a customer places an order on a website the information is passed along via the business host computer (mostly an ERP system) to the WMS. All necessary steps to manage this order, pick the ordered items, etc., are then processed within the WMS. Afterward, information is sent back to the business host computer to support financial transactions, advance shipping notifications to customers, inventory management, etc.
A modern WMS will connect to a variety of communication technologies (radio frequency), automatic ID technologies (barcode, RFID, etc.), mobile computers, and occasionally automated material handling (conveyors and sortation) and storage equipment (carousels, automatic storage and retrieval, etc.).
Warehouse management systems can be standalone systems, part of supply chain execution suites, or modules of an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. Depending on the size and sophistication of the organization, warehouse management can be as simple as handwritten lists or spreadsheets using software such as Microsoft Excel or Access, as well as specialty WMS software systems.
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