As companies’ scale, outsourcing logistics to a 3PL becomes increasingly expensive, because there is no opportunity to achieve economies of scale in the same way as when processing orders directly, through an internally run warehouse. So, many businesses will start to consider a warehouse management software system to automate the day to day operations – goods receiving and putaway, stock counting, picking and dispatching of customer orders, plus returns management.
They tend to have questions like this enquiry we received from an ecommerce company, who were looking to invest in their warehouse operations. Their query is a very common one and it relates to integration. In other words, ensuring that IT systems can communicate directly with each other, so that information is passed between them automatically, with no need to run updates. This means that the data available to those on the ‘shop floor’ is as accurate and up to date as the data that management can access.
Here’s the customer’s question:
“We have an ecommerce business and are looking at developing our logistics capabilities. At the moment I don’t really have any idea of what is needed software-wise to run our warehouse, so was wondering if you have any information or advice? We process hundreds of orders a day and that’s growing fast. We currently have over 60 SKU’s and that’s growing too.
We use Royal Mail for most shipping, but some larger orders require a courier service. Presumably we need software that links up with our ecommerce software and that would pull the orders onto your system? We then need to print out the shipping label, sheet, pick and pack the order, and then attach the shipping label. The ecommerce software would need to update your system with the tracking number which would in turn update the ecommerce software we use. Am I missing anything?”
Where existing software is already in place – an ERP system, finance management, shopping cart technology as in this example, a TMS (transport management system) or perhaps a document management system – this can be integrated directly with a warehouse management system, like Indigo WMS using industry standard APIs.
Indigo’s experience with integration
Indigo’s development team are experts at integration, whether it is to a shopping cart or an ERP, weigh scales or load scales for industrial level measurements or efficient picking using automated storage and retrieval systems. Over the last 18 months, we have completed numerous implementations for clients, that have involved integrating Indigo WMS seamlessly with major publishers such as SAP, Oracle, Sage and Infor at the back end. We have also delivered integrations with both legacy and in-house custom-built systems. Here are some examples:
Sage 1000 integration for homewares specialist
A recent project for one of the UK’s most well-known home fragrance manufacturers included integrating with Sage 1000, to give management a real-time view of stock availability and business performance. Using Indigo WMS, the company now has a very accurate record of all goods movements, from booking in raw materials, pick for production schedules and also the transition of goods coming off the production line and into the warehouse for putaway, sales order picking and then final dispatching.
Oracle integration for seafood manufacturer
In another integration, our fish processing customer receives orders from its customers – the UK’s 3 biggest supermarkets – which are then fed into their Oracle system. This company wanted a warehouse management system (WMS) because they were constantly moving stocks in and out of the warehouse – for production and sales. The WMS ensures their product turnaround processes are more efficient and cost effective, plus that they can meet the strict service level agreements set by customers.
With Oracle now directly integrated with Indigo WMS, a picking list is automatically created for all raw materials required for the different fish products manufactured – marinaded prawns, fish cakes, fish pie mix, for instance. The picking request is then sent straight to the warehouse, where the products needed are picked in line with production plans for the day. Once products have been picked for production, Indigo WMS’s involvement stops briefly before the system re-starts its active role in the process, for automating the packing and dispatch of finished goods onto the retailer. So far, they have seen a 20% improvement to order turnaround times and for a company shipping up to 200,000 packets of fish a day, that’s a huge cost saving.
Integration with shop floor technology
In addition to ERP systems, we also integrate Indigo WMS with technology on the shop floor – for instance storage and retrieval systems or packaging machinery, carousels and conveyor systems. When correctly applied and fully integrated with a WMS, automated storage and retrieval systems can significantly reduce miss-pick rates and improve accuracy and productivity. Plus, they can store many items in a small space and also speed up putaway and picking processes. It is especially useful for product lines with lower turnover and stock levels, e.g. small automotive parts, electronic components and pharma products.
All too often our supply chain consultants visit warehouses to find that companies have invested in this type of technology, but it hasn’t been integrated with a WMS. Around 50% of the installations we see at Indigo are standalone, so the operator has to manually call out for the next tray. Alternatively, when integrated with a WMS, the software directly manages the operation of the carousel to maximise efficiency. For instance, in goods to person picking, stock is automatically sequenced and brought up to warehouse staff in exactly the right order for dispatching.
If you would like advice on integrating a WMS with your ERP, finance or shop floor technology, contact our supply chain consultants.