Warehouse managers today are "all looking for an edge," says Quellhorst. They're scrambling to adapt to a changing distribution environment and new service demands from customers. One solution, he says, is to reconfigure warehouses to handle higher volumes and a greater variety of product. Better management of the labor force is another key effort.
Technology offers a number of tools for streamlining operations and boosting productivity. Smartphones and iPads are among the devices that are being re-purposed to operate effectively in distribution environments.
Yet another promising area for improvement is fleet management. Information available today allows warehouse professionals to achieve greater visibility about what's going on in the facility, particularly with regard to the vehicles deployed for picking, putaway and material handling.
Automation options over the longer term include automated guided vehicles (AGVs) and a new generation of forklifts. But most automated systems tend to be inflexible, says Quellhorst. They make it tough for managers to adjust to sudden changes in product mix and customer requirements. In response, companies are creating "semi-automated" solutions, which are easier to implement and entail less risk in their deployment.
Technology, of course, can't supply the whole answer. To achieve competitive advantage, warehouses need to "provide a solution to customers that addresses their needs," Quellhorst says, adding that the return on investment must be evident and substantial.
"The solution has to be less expensive and painful than what they're living with," he says, "and ultimately costs less than [they're spending] today."
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Keywords: supply chain, supply chain management, WMS, warehouse management systems, inventory control, inventory management, warehouse management, supply chain systems
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