Using Software To Simplify Inventory Management
Which package will fit your company?
Tracking inventory, whether it’s received goods or finished parts, can be a complicated and time-consuming process for a job shop. Simplifying it can add to a company’s bottom line.
Often there is a lot of information associated with an inventory item such as location, cost, amount and more.
When that information is entered manually and tracked using a solution such as Microsoft Excel, things can quickly get out of hand. It’s at this point that a job shop might want to consider using an inventory-management solution.
“There’s always a return [on investment when a company decides to use an inventory management solution],” says Bob Hagerman, general manager for GigaTrak. “And that’s because of time savings and improved inventory accuracies.”
In fact, Hagerman says that after employees are trained on how to use the inventory system, inventory counts should always be accurate. As a result, job shops will have to count inventory much less often, and instances of incorrectly shipped or received orders could also be greatly reduced.
According to Ronald Pawlowski, COO of IntelliTrack, inventory management solutions can lead to reduced labor, too.
“The automated system managing your inventory will direct users to the right location for the inventory item, meaning there’s less time spent walking around the warehouse looking for something, which is time when employees aren’t making the company money,” he explains.
As a company, GigaTrak offers a number of different inventory tracking systems, all geared toward different types of businesses. However, for the small- to mid-sized manufacturer or job shop, they offer a solution called their Inventory Management System (IMS).
Bob Hagerman, GigaTrak’s general manager, says that the IMS solution contains a number of different features helpful to job shops, one of which is the ability to generate sales orders and work orders based on a company’s inventory.
“With the IMS solution, if you get an order in and it requires that you build ten components, you get your bill of materials, create a work order, and then go out and build the components,” elaborates Hagerman. “However, say if somebody orders ten components, but your production capacity only allows you to build five at a time, our IMS solution will let you do two production orders against one work order to produce the components.”
After the work order is completed, IMS flushes all the materials that were used during assembly out of the inventory, while unused materials are then added back into it. While GigaTrak’s IMS solution doesn’t contain any accounting features, it does allow job shops to create simple invoices based on sales orders and shipments.
“It summarizes everything that’s going to the customer,” explains Hagerman. “We actually found a lot of the smaller job shops didn’t want to have to go back into something like QuickBooks and do the entry over there.”
The invoice is generated within IMS, and from there, customers can receipt the associated funds into their accounting package, Hagerman notes.
IMS also includes a cycle count function that lets job shops designate a group of inventory items that they want to count. An employee can then load this information to a handheld computer, count the items at their location and then upload the data to IMS, which then automatically updates inventory counts. IMS will then create an inventory history, and reports can then be run based on the adjustments. Hagerman says that with their system, GigaTrak’s goal is for job shops to only have to do this once a year.
Beyond invoice generation and cycle counts, IMS also includes a quality-control module and a barcode designer. The QC module functions by monitoring new components that are produced by the job shop. If the part master of the IMS has marked certain new components for inspection, the QC module will put them under hold status upon receipt. At that point, an employee will have to inspect the component before it can be released for use.
The barcode designer included with the IMS system allows labels to be designed and printed. “It’s very simple with a nice drag and drop, where you can create location production and receipt labels with barcodes,” says Hagerman. “You can then print labels and apply them to the material items.”
As a final point, Hagerman emphasizes GigaTrak’s user-friendly approach to their system.
“One of the big reasons we’ve been successful with our systems is that they are more focused to the specific needs of the user,” explains Hagerman. “We don’t throw in the kitchen sink. In other words, there are not a lot of functions in here that people are never going to use. With having written so much software, we’ve learned that just growing our solution and expanding its features doesn’t make it better.”
Hagerman points out that just adding features results in the need for more training. He says that in the majority of cases, IMS satisfies the needs of the general job shop. In the cases that their client needs more features, GigaTrak will work with them to modify the system to the their needs.
IntelliTrack offers a number of software packages for managing inventory, two of which, their stockroom and warehouse inventory management systems, would be of particular interest to job shops. IntelliTrack’s stockroom management system offers the ability to track such items as replacement parts, bearings, belts, filters and lubricants, while their warehouse management system is more useful for tracking fulfillment of finished goods.
Though their systems were not designed from the ground up with job shops in mind, Ronald Pawlowski, CEO of IntelliTrack, says that manufacturers will often come to them, not having a problem with their manufacturing process, but needing help tracking their finished goods inventory. When this happens, IntelliTrack’s systems are easily adaptable to their needs.
Both the stockroom and warehouse management systems come with two components: software for both a PC and a mobile-handheld computer.
“Our software comes with a component that runs on a mobile-handheld computer, like you’d see at Home Depot, so when something is received off the production line or from a vendor, the operator can scan the part number, add in the quantity and/or order number and do the data collection in the warehouse on the floor,” explains Pawlowski.
He also mentions that their solution can work in either batch or real-time mode. Smaller customers might do their data collection in batch mode, which requires them to scan a number of parts and then return the mobile computer to its dock for data synchronization. Larger customers, on the other hand, might use real-time mode, which allows them to continue collecting data while it synchronizes automatically without needing to return the computer to its base.
Pawlowski notes that the interaction between their mobile-computer software and the PC-based application is “something unique to our software. They’ve always been tightly integrated.”
He elaborates that this special relationship could also be responsible for increasing inventory accuracy, citing the elimination of the need to manually enter something being received in a warehouse into a computer. Instead, finished goods are scanned on the spot.
“They can take the data collection right to the activity,” Pawlowski points out.
With their emphasis on mobile-handheld computer-data collection, it’s important to note that IntelliTrack doesn’t limit their customers to one specific type of hardware. On the contrary, IntelliTrack’s software supports about 100 different mobile computer models from many different companies, such as Motorola, Unitech and Honeywell.
“Our competition only supports a limited number of mobile computers, but we try to give our customers a lot of latitude to select the model that works best for their environment,” says Pawlowski.
He also emphasizes the fact that IntelliTrack will customize their software to suit a customer’s needs, including modifications to the database, the PC application and the mobile-computer application.
“We have a group of engineers that will take our off-the-shelf software, modify it to better meet that particular customer’s needs and then deploy it in that customer’s environment,” he mentions.
Finally, job shops interested in IntelliTrack’s software, but not wishing to buy it outright, also have the option of renting it on a monthly basis in the form of software-as-a-service.
“Very few of our competitors offer that,” notes Pawlowski.
Wasp Barcode Technologies
Wasp Barcode Technology’s Inventory Control solution is designed to be all inclusive.
“With a lot of manufacturers of inventory control products, they may make mobile computers or they may make the software or maybe even the barcode printers,” says Cliff Anderson, Wasp Barcode Technology’s product marketing manager. “We pull it all together and offer a bundled total solution. We provide the software, the hardware – everything needed to build an optimal solution.”
Anderson also emphasizes the fact that Wasp’s solution is not only price competitive, but they also provide training and U.S. based technical support free of charge.
“With several of our competitors, all you can do is email them if you’re having an issue,” comments Anderson. “They may advise you to do a training session or some other sort of support, and they’re going to charge you for that. We offer free online training. We train people how to use and implement the products online.”
After training, when a job shop is using the solution on the floor, inventory is added to Wasp’s Inventory Control system by either scanning items, through either a scanner or mobile computer, or uploading a database of CSV files. When scanning items using a wireless-mobile computer, customers don’t have to return to the PC to upload the data collected – data can be synched wirelessly through 802.11 access points.
Anderson notes that the system is easy to use, as well.
“You basically just create a list of your customers, your manufacturers and your items that are inventoried,” he explains. “And those items can be inventory items that are resold or non-inventory items, as in items that you just use in your manufacturing or job shop, but that you might consume but don’t necessarily resell.”
From there, a user can simply search the system’s database to find an item’s location and cost – which makes the process of auditing inventory much simpler – as well as do purchase orders from it.
“The system makes things a lot more efficient,” he says. “You’re able to accomplish many different tasks much more quickly and accurately, all the while knowing exactly what is where, which also means that things are not lost or stolen quite as easily as before. The ROI for most customers is in as little as two to three months.”
Anderson also mentions that Wasp’s solution is not only customizable, but scalable.
“Our solutions scale from a small mom-and-pop type of an organization to large warehouses,” he says. “It can grow with their business.”
Inventory management systems can help job shops create order out of a potentially complicated, time-consuming and possibly even chaotic aspect of their business. If a job shop is dealing with a messy inventory, it might be time to consider a solution such as those offered from Gigatrak, IntelliTrack and Wasp Barcode and thus reap benefits such as decreased costs, time savings, improved accuracy and reduced labor.
Wasp Barcode Technologies