Supply Chain News: A Fresh Look at Task Management in WMS

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At the recent NRF “Big Show” at the Javits Center in New Yok City, one of the most interesting new solutions was a product called “Store Optimizer” from JDA Software. in partnership with Intel.

The JDA application software receives data from Intel’s RFID gateway product that can also deliver video and other data feeds.

Supply Chain Digest Says…

Retail stock personnel don’t have to wonder what to do – their terminal tells them exactly what to do, and they confirm it is done electronically.


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Greatly summarizing, the JDA solution will marry that data with its in-store workforce management solution, and in the process at last turn task management in-store from basically an electronic checklist into more like how task management works in a Warehouse Management System (WMS) in the DC.

So, as a simple example, the priority of getting a sweater left in a dressing back on the floor highly depends on whether there are more of that color and size on the rack or it is the only one in the store.

SCDigest thought we would take this news from JDA to once again do a quick review of how a quality task management engine in a WMS works.

With task management, a WMS assigns work to operators based on the “3 P’s”:

Permission: Is a given worker allowed to perform a the task? This can be a matter of having been trained, or the type of equipment that person is on at a given point in time.

Proximity: All things being equal, it makes sense to dole out tasks that are close to where a given worker is when the task is ready to be assigned, to reduce travel time. So for example, if a lift truck driver puts away one pallet, the system might look for a replenishment task for the closest pallet move in the queue.

Priority: How important is this task? A “hot replenishment” for an empty pick slot might be a very high priority, for example. But most tier 1 WMS systems also put a time factor on each task, bumping up its priority the longer it sits in the queue, otherwise low priority tasks never get assigned.

All this then also enables the possibility of “task interleaving,” or combining tasks, such as a putaway with a replenishment move as discussed above, to reduce deadheading and increase productivity.

But there is a lot of sophistication required to make that work to its optimum level, both in the scope of a given WMS’ capabilities and in thinking about how the DC’s logical set-up can deliver the best task management engine performance.

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For example, how should a DC complex, which may actually include multiple buildings, be best “defined?” Even if it is a single building, defining such items as work areas, work zones and the location schemes all go into the data model that the task engine will use to optimize what tasks are assigned to each operators, as shown below.

With all deference to JDA, SCDigest editor Dan Gilmore wrote about the possibility of using task management similar to that of a WMS in retail to solve much of the out-of-stock problem back in 2009.

As Gilmore wrote then, relative to out-of-stocks that occur when inventory for that item is somewhwere in the back room:

“Could we not largely solve the out-of-stock problem by leveraging these under-utilized devices [wireless RF terminals in widespread usage at retailers] and adding a type of task management system, maybe morphed from a WMS, to direct workers to get product on the shelves?

 

What it would take is:

 

• A perpetual inventory (PI) system at the store level (largely in place);

A basic inventory location system in the back room (sometimes in place);

Wireless terminals (largely in place); and

The tas.k management engine, integrated with the other pieces (or maybe all from one source) 

 

Pretty simple – the PI says a location needs replenished (at whatever level is set for that SKU), and a specific task is set for the move. It goes into the queue, and is prioritized based on other variables (just for example, perhaps high-margin items generally go to the top of the queue); if more units of that SKU are sold, meaning it is increasingly in danger of going to zero at the shelf, the task rises in the queue.

 

Stock personnel don’t have to wonder what to do – their terminal tells them exactly what to do, and they confirm it is done electronically. By the way, they could be asked to do a cycle count when they do the shelf replenishment.  If they see an empty shelf or peg, they could also do a cycle count, and/or check to see if a replenishment is on the way.”

 

Eight years later, looks like someone finally got the idea.

Is it time for WMS type task management in the store? What are the challenges? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback section below or the link above to send an email.

 

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