Supply Chain Technology: Zotos’ high-volume WMS
July 01, 2011
Zotos’ software customizations didn’t end with the MAPICS-WMS integration. In fact, Cohen says that manufacturer has asked for several modifications since the system was installed in 2005. Those changes don’t support Zotos’ initial intentions to use the WMS out of the box, says Cohen, whose team learned quickly that no standard software package could meet all of its warehouse management needs.
“Nothing out there could accommodate the tracking of materials that we wanted to be able to track at all times,” says Cohen. For example, the firm uses a process called “diversion coding” to combat the inappropriate sales of its high-end products to unauthorized companies or individuals.
“We were finding that our high-end products were being sold in the low-end marketplace,” says Cohen. Zotos manages this problem through diversion coding. When an order comes in for such goods, the inventory is picked and sent to a corporate division that puts a secret code on the individual bottles.
The challenge is that the bottles can’t be coded prior to shipping mass quantities of the product to the firm’s DC because not all bottles in a specific lot are candidates for the diversion coding. “It’s a very specific process, and one that brought to light a particular business need that a standard WMS package couldn’t help us with,” says Cohen. “But other than that, we’re using the WMS right out of the box. Ultimately, it’s a much better solution that what we were using previously.”
Zotos hasn’t measured the pure ROI of its WMS investment, but Cohen says the manufacturer’s shipping volumes have “gone up considerably” since 2005. Those increases translate into sales, Cohen says, and they have allowed Zotos to meet customer expectations without having to add warehouse staff.
“Without the benefit of a specific ROI matrix, I can say we’ve gained efficiencies from the software,” says Cohen. “It has allowed us to flexibly distribute work to our [truck] drivers, change priorities on the fly, and react to changing business needs.” If a large customer has a last-minute order change, for example, and even if the shipment is ready to roll away from the dock, Zotos can switch out the products quickly and remain on schedule.
“Using our WMS, we can make last-minute changes all the way up until the truck leaves the dock,” says Cohen. “We’ve never had that much flexibility so close to the shipment window before.”
The four-year leap
Zotos’ upgrade to the 2009 version of the WMS posed a few challenges for the manufacturer, but also gave it cross-docking and other capabilities that it previously lacked. According to Cohen, the upgrade allowed the firm to take product from its production lines and immediately place it on a truck for shipment—unlike traditional cross-docking that enables the movement of materials from one truck to another while both are still at the dock.
“The cross-docking was a great functional addition to our warehouse that was not in the first version of our WMS,” says Cohen. The upgrade also helped Zotos stay ahead of the curve, technology-wise, seeing that it was using a four-year-old system that lacked some of the newer WMS capabilities. And while the case for an upgrade was clear, Cohen says the process itself was time consuming and cumbersome.
“We had some difficulties with the upgrade, but we’ve also had a lot of successes because of it,” says Cohen. “Going forward, we’re thinking we want to stay closer to what our vendor is doing in the marketplace. We won’t upgrade every year, but maybe every other year in order to avoid having to make another big, four-year leap.”
To shippers that are considering a new WMS, or an upgrade to an existing system, Cohen says his best advice is to “get in sync with the vendor” and make sure it’s aware of the “ins and outs” of your warehouse and transportation operations, as well as your existing, core business computing systems.
“If you want a WMS that’s modeled to your satisfaction, you really have to be upfront with the software vendor,” says Cohen. “Know whether you have to modify anything before you get into it, figure out how much those modifications will cost, and exactly how those changes will impact the way the software works.”
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