We often get asked about eliminating paper in the warehouse to cut costs or avoid touch points for contamination. This is even more critical right now as companies look to meet increased health and safety requirements. At RF-SMART, we have tools that can help you become a paper-free operation. This Q&A walks you through strategies for achieving a paperless warehouse.
Q: First of all, what does a typical process look like with paper?
In a traditional sales order pick, you may have your list of orders in your ERP system that need to be released out to the warehouse. Most often, a warehouse manager or supervisor is going to go into the ERP and run a search to identify the list of orders they want to print out. For example, they may search for all the FedEx orders that day, and then they will print out a batch of pick tickets. By scanning the barcode on the bottom of the pick ticket, the items then get sorted, placed in a basket out in the warehouse. And at that point it now requires a user to take the RF-SMART client and then scan that pick ticket and carry that pick ticket through the entire process, from order fulfillment, to handing that to a packing shipping clerk, to then get processed for final fulfillment.
Q: What are some misconceptions about going paperless?
There's some misconceptions about going paperless, but decreasing contamination in the warehouse is a hot topic right now. Some customers think it's just as easy as saying, "Hey, why don't I just select the sales order from the device?" This is a great start, but where a lot of people don't think is downstream. After you select that device, you go through the warehouse and you pick your inventory items. Now you drop all these inventory items off in a packing station. There's no way to properly identify those items, which means you have a bunch of inventory sitting there with no way of knowing who the inventory belongs to.
Q: What steps can a business take to eliminate paper in the warehouse?
When you go paperless, there still needs to be a way to identify the inventory once it gets to a packing lane. We recommend using a tote system, which is just an identified carton or container. It could be a spot on a big wheeling cart or it could be a small basket with an identified barcode that can be reused over and over. Using our Pick Planner tool, you're able to pick tasks up from the mobile device, walk through the warehouse, pick those into identified baskets, then drop them in a pack station for later packing and shipping processes without having to print a manual ticket. These totes can also be wiped down and decontaminated.
We call this functionality Pick Planner for our NetSuite product. We call it Pick Manager in some of our other ERP's, but holistically they're really the same product. What they're doing is looking at the orders in your system and then creating picking tasks which can then be pushed out to a mobile device.
Q: One way to reduce paper would be to use pick tickets to act as packing slips. How do you set that up?
Some of our customers just don't have the order volume or set up to go to a paperless environment with something like a tote system. However, they still want to reduce the amount of paper that they're leveraging in the warehouse. Some customers will reformat this pick ticket, which is just a custom form, and they'll create it in a way where they could re-purpose that as their packing slip. Essentially, the pick ticket gets released to the warehouse and goes through the fulfillment process. Then at packing and shipping, they'll simply fold that pick ticket up and put it into that carton or package as the packing slip identifier for the customer, rather than generating and printing off another packing slip.
Q: Something that our customers are taking advantage of during this time is image capture. What is image capture and what value does it bring to our customers?
This feature was highly requested from our prospects and customers. If you've ever looked at a modern warehouse device, it really looks similar to a smartphone. They're more ruggedize, but they do have built-in cameras. So our customers were trying to figure out, "How can I leverage this camera to benefit my business?" What we've found is it's different for each customer. For some, it was, being able to capture an picture while the items are staged for pick up. This way if a customer ordered three of something but only received two, they have a photo validation tied to the record. For other customers, it could be things like receiving documents or compliance documents. Customers are able to take a photo to upload and tie it to a record in the ERP itself.
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