Inventory movement with an eCommerce twist

Inventory movement (also referred to as a stock transfer or stock movement) was the single biggest pain for a Warehouse Manager I met with last month, “When the inventory movement sheets are printed and ready to be assigned, EVERYONE seems to disappear.”

His biggest challenge was making space for new deliveries that are due to arrive. When you have a 40ft container arriving every other hour, finding space for everything can be a painful process.

His inventory movement process goes something like…

1. Send a warehouse operator out to find space (no record of location capacities in warehouse management software)
2. Make a stock transfer request in inventory software to move stock to make space for new deliveries
3. Stock transfer request is printed and handed out to warehouse operatives
4. Stock transfer sheet manually updated when inventory movements completed
5. Stock transfer sheet reconciled against inventory records

Not an unusual stock transfer process, but it is definitely labour intensive. It is difficult to say how much time he and his team are spending on inventory movements but it is significant. Inventory movements are needed to…

… put inventory away after it has been received at goods-in
…make warehouse space for new inventory that is arriving
…replenish the order picking zone with stock from bulk-storage
…put returned items back into warehouse storage

We were able to quickly identify the main problems resulting from his existing process:

  1. Generating a lot of paperwork and data entry from inventory movements
  2. A time delay between inventory movements and the warehouse management software being updated
  3. Not being able to move inventory between locations  with speed, accurately

How does the inventory movement process work using barcodes?

Inventory movements within the warehouse can be done in two different ways when using barcodes – the exact process is determined by the type of barcode used.

For items that do not have individually unique barcodes, like clothing that use the stock keeping unit (SKU) as the barcode, the process requires three scans. The first scan is the location that the inventory is being moved from. The second scan is the barcode of the item that is being moved. If more than 1 of an item is being moved, the user can enter in the quantity using the keypad on the barcode scanner. The final scan is the location that the inventory is being moved to.

To move items that carry a unique barcode (sometimes called a license plate) the inventory movement requires only 2 scans. Firstly the user must scan the barcode of the item that is being moved and secondly they must scan the new location that the item is being moved to.

What are the benefits of inventory movements using barcodes?

Because recording inventory put-away can be done more quickly with greater accuracy, inventory put-away can be a lot more flexible. Warehouse operators can be instructed to fill gaps rather than put-away to fixed destinations. Flexible put-away procedures meas the task of ‘making space’ can almost be eliminated entirely. It also avoids warehouse operators carrying inventory to a designated put-away location, to find out that there is not space available.

Inventory movements can be completed at the point of action to give real-time inventory accuracy.

Inventory movements can be done more quickly, with greater accuracy. This means the Warehouse Manager has greater control over what inventory goes where. Warehouse optimisation techniques such as using bulk-storage with dedicated picking zones can be much easier to implement.

Paper is no longer used which saves money and reduces the amount of waste created. It also mean the process of manual data-entry of paper forms into the warehouse management software is eliminated.

Frequently answered questions:

When I need to put-away or move more than one of a product will I need to barcode scan each item individually? No – when you scan an item to move it, the option is given to change the quantity that is being moved. This means time can be saved but be aware that errors may occur.

Can I move all of the stock in one warehouse location to a different location? Yes – after scanning a location to move inventory from, all of the stock within that location can also be scanned to perform a bulk move. The inventory movement is then completed by scanning the destination location once the acivity has bee completed.

Will the software keep a record of inventory movements? Reporting is available on both inventory movement and container movement (e.g. pallets). A full inventory movement history can be displayed at the click of a button. This is one of the big benefits of using inventory management software over excel inventory spreadsheets.

Author: Oliver Rhodes