I spend a lot of my day talking with formula based manufacturing companies about their business issues. About 50% of these conversations involve the request for bar coding. When asked about what business issues they are trying to solve with bar coding I typically get some of the following expectations:
- Increase physical inventory accuracy
- Reduce effort to identify inventory location – Bin tracking
- Reduce lot expiration
- Increase accuracy of usage/yield reporting
- Provide real-time access to usage and production
- Support lot tracking from material usage through shipping
Each company believes they have real issues around inventory control and solving these issues may yield tremendous results.
The problem is see is often in the definition of bar coding. Bar coding by itself does not solve any of these issues. Bar coding as a technology needs help from other applications and processes. What they are describing is a Warehouse Management System (WMS). The simple act of scanning a bar coded item is nothing more than a data collection exercise – what you do with that data is the key to solve the issues.
Well designed and implemented WMS systems can assist a formula manufacturer gain a better understanding of inventory levels, rotate lots prior to expiration by directed picking and improve the inventory accuracy through faster cycle counts. They do this by setting best practices for inventory movement and assist users to follow the business processes. Every time a person touches inventory the user must notify the system and that inventory must be tracked from the time it arrives on a truck to the time it leaves to a customer.
In my experience the key challenge is to ensure timely and proper application of the bar code label. Once that is done much of the remaining work is in execution and discipline when inventory is touched.
As soon as a company introduces flawed business practices the WMS system falls apart. A formula manufacturer must be able to perform all its processes to a high level of excellence prior to expecting positive results from the WMS system. Unfortunately few companies really understand this.
So for my clients we implement in this order: Financials, distribution, production, compliance, scheduling and then WMS. Only until the business processes are clearly understood and implemented will a WMS solution truly yield the results they expect.
I once heard a mentor of mine once say – "Bar coding (WMS) is great. It can screw you up at the speed of light". Do yourself a favor and get your processes under control prior to introducing WMS.
When you are ready - there are some terrific WMS systems to assist you achieve your desired results. While picking an ERP solution you should make sure there is a solid WMS solution as part of the deliverable. If you already have an ERP solution make sure your systems are well under control before adding WMS. Failure to do either of these may cost you dearly in the future.