One of the core concepts relative to Warehouse Management Systems is that of “directed putaway.”
While many logistics professionals are very familiar with this topic, it is clear from conversations with many companies that others don’t really have all the details – and that quite a few lack directed putaway capabilities with whatever software system they are currently using to run their distribution center.
As the name suggests, directed putaway is all about the WMS communicating to DC associates through mobile wireless terminals where in the DC a product should be stored, at the specific location level.
But to understand directed putaway, you also need to add the related concept of zoning or zone management.
A good WMS should allow you to define, practically without limit, different putaway zones for which rules will be applied relative of putaway each pallet or case. A zone is simply a grouping of locations.
A common and most basic approach to zoning is to create separate zones for fast, medium and slow moving products – fast products stored near the front, slow movers in the back.
If a fast-moving product is received or created, the WMS should be able to direct the operator to put the product away in a specific location in the fast moving zone.
Ah, but what if there is no available open location the preferred putaway zone? A good Warehouse Management System will allow you to define a hierarchical set of rules or preferences to address this scenario. For example, if there is no available location in the fast moving zone, the WMS looks next for a location in the medium mover zone, etc.
We’ll note in general the logic is a lot more complex than that, using more zone types. For example, a 3PL could have zones for each client, and also have velocity-based zones within that client block.
Or a company within velocity-based zones could create a zone for “heavy” pallets - as defined in the item master - on the first or first and second levels of racking, for obvious reasons.
There are several other important points.
First, all putaway transactions of course are confirmed with bar code scans.
Also, most companies allow associates to override the location recommended by the WMS. But to do so should require entering a reason code, such as “location not empty” or “spillage.” The WMS should them provide reports to see if some associates seem to override the WMS recommendation a lot more often than others.
Also, some products should be able to be configured so that if there are no acceptable locations available, a supervisor must be notified to resolve the situation. A common example of that would be hazmat material that must be stored in a specific zone.
Finally, if you are putting away products at the case level instead of or in addition to full pallet loads, it can add some complexities. For example, if a storage location is only partially full, can you mix in the new receipts to avoid taking up another location? However, that can involve questions about mixing lots or maintaining rules about “first in, first out.”
Softeon WMS has powerful natural language rules engine that underlies our entire suite of products, and is well leveraged in our directed putaway function.
Not only does it power a highly configurable, hierarchical set of putaway rules, in the rare case where the base rule set doesn’t meet a specific need, the rules engine is exposed to allow customers to create their own rules using a wide array of attributes.
This powerful function is usually only needed to handle oddball situations such as a new type of product being handle, a promotion, temporary SKUs, etc.
Directed putaway – it’s a key part of the value of an advance WMS, and a lot better than associates making their own putaway decisions based on loose rules of thumb or their own convenience.