When people plan budgets for a new WMS, two main areas that get initial budget attention are user licensing counts and costs and professional service fees. Oftentimes people underestimate the equipment requirements, server capacity, and communication bandwidth. You may find out the equipment required is larger and more complex to gain most of the functionality from the WMS and any add-on modules that you plan to implement.
Your fulfillment center may already have bar code scanning and maybe you assume without doing your research that many of the devices you have will be useable and therefore the hardware costs are probably minimal. This will need to be validated with the WMS vendor to ensure compatibility. Other companies may need to invest in a new fleet of scanners, batteries, and backups, etc. For most, after scanners, there are question marks for what else is needed. These are areas above and beyond the scanners that companies must account for.
An equipment budget has seven categories that you should review and plan for:
- Computers for end-users
- Printers for reporting, barcodes, LPNs, pack slips, etc.
- Wireless Access Points
- Devices and Scanners
- Truck-mounted systems access units and scanners
- Manifesting hardware
- Pack station hardware
Under-estimating these costs can destroy your budget and cause you to go back to management for additional funding as the implementation proceeds. Sometimes settling for less equipment creates less than desirable workarounds or additional steps in the process. Not purchasing equipment might save money initially, but add costs in labor over the long term.
Here is an 8-point checklist to help you make a more accurate WMS equipment budget:
1. Computers for end-users
Computers are needed for different people to access the WMS within your organization. Director of fulfillment, first-line managers, inventory control personnel, etc. typically have offices or workstations on the floor. Small handheld devices may not suffice for WMS access and some sub-applications.
The WMS team needs to determine who needs access to the WMS, including the add-on modules to be purchased.
- How many of these individuals will need a computer vs a handheld?
- Do you have computers that can be reused?
- Do the individuals require a desktop or laptop?
Other users and functional areas to consider are:
- Receiving department for printing PO’s, receiving worksheets, or other documentation
- Packers for verifying order contents
- Manifesters for entering shipment data
- Transportation and routing department functions and users
- Labor planning and labor management system functions and users
- Business analyst
Companies must consider all the various printing needs, from item level barcodes to receiving worksheets, and peel and stick shipping labels.
Having a new WMS may require different printers that need to be hardwired as opposed to a standard WiFi-connected printer. As with scanners, you will need to validate if any existing scanners can work with the new WMS. If they are WiFi-based, can a network card be inserted?
Users and functional areas to consider for needing printers:
- Receivers printing POs, license plates, worksheets, product specifications
- Packers for pack lists
- Manifesters for ship labels
- Supervisory functions
- Appropriate speed printers for printing pick tickets if paper-based picking
The WMS team will need to determine the type of printer, the production output daily and peak hours, and the quantity of printers by department or users, including:
- Management and supervisors
- Will receiving be printing from laser printers as well as generating barcode labels?
- What documentation will inventory control possibly need to print? Will they be printing barcodes as well?
- Will shipping be printing a manifest, a label, or a bill of lading?
- Will the packers need to print a packing slip; selective print of marketing materials; or customer invoice to go in the shipment?
- Will the returns department need to print any documentation required for product refurbishment or disposition?
- Will any documentation be printed for work orders in your company?
All of these requirements and equipment needs will vary by fulfillment center and WMS application
3. Wireless Access Points
Wireless access points are crucial. Without these, or enough of them strategically placed throughout the facility, there is no access to the WMS system from handheld or truck-mounted devices. They are important for keeping all users and devices connected to the system to keep the business running.
Scanners, computers, printers, and other devices are all reliant upon this. It is also very important that wireless access points are properly sized and placed for your unique facility. This is key to get adequate coverage and no dead zones.
Utilize a third party that specializes in site surveys to properly determine the type of wireless access points and the quantity based on the number of users, transactions, and facility characteristics.
4. Devices and Scanners
There are many different styles of handheld or wrist-mounted devices and scanners to access the WMS. The main options are typically gun-style device/scanners, wearable devices with Bluetooth ring scanners, and tablets.
The WMS team will need to determine how many users and if any existing handhelds can be utilized with your new WMS. Consider how many spare units you will need in the event that one breaks or has a software issue and if you will need replaceable batteries in a multi-shift distribution center operation.
Do not forget to budget for chargers, protective cases, holsters, or slings – as well as maintenance programs to swap out damaged units. They are well worth the cost.
Users and functional areas to consider for needing devices and scanners:
- Pickers for picking verification
- Receivers for product confirmation on POs
- Inventory control and cycle counters
- Putaway and replenishment operators (non-forklift operators)
Often, companies can misjudge the number of units needed if they fail to plan for peak or seasonal influx of employees.
5. Truck Mounted Units
If you rely on forklift operators to complete put away and replenishment, a truck-mounted computer/device will be needed. This is essentially a special tablet or computer designed for mounting to the lift. They typically have a tethered or wireless scanner as well to scan products and locations.
The WMS team will need to determine how many units are needed and if any existing units can be utilized with your new WMS.
6. Pack Station Hardware
Will packers be doing a scan verification at the time of packing, if so, they will need a computer and scanner. If not, your pack station may not be in need of hardware.
- How many pack stations are needed taking into account future growth?
- Are packing and manifesting done in the same step and station?
- How does this affect combined hardware needs?
- Is scan verification done with a fixed scanner or a Bluetooth scanner?
7. Manifesting Hardware
At the manifesting station (for those without shipping automation) a computer, printer, and scanner are all needed. Additionally, a scale will be needed, and it should be ensured that it can connect to the network so that weights are auto-populated into the WMS system.
- How many shipping stations are needed taking into account future growth?
- Is the existing hardware compatible moving forward?
- Can you adequately test the hardware if you are using it with the existing system?
- Should you invest in rolltop scales to improve ergonomics?
8. Additional Budgeting Considerations
Plan electrical and communication contractor fees into equipment budgeting. This really comes into play when considering wireless access points, electrical drops for packing and manifesting, or other management work hubs.
Another aspect to consider is can you benefit from existing relationships between hardware providers and WMS vendors? Oftentimes, discounts are available when bundling product purchasing or using a vendor that has a good relationship with the WMS vendor.
Lastly, don’t leave all of this to the IT department. The WMS and its equipment needs are as new to them as it is to you. Do the planning and budgeting as a team.
There are many valuable WMS functions that require equipment planning. Proper planning and budgeting can eliminate cost overruns.