Managing a large electric supply company can be a challenge without the proper software. Not so long ago, that was the problem facing Becker Electric Supply.
In the past, the company, which distributes electrical components and materials to contractors and industrial customers from eight locations in Ohio, Indiana, and Georgia, relied strictly on paper to pick orders, using picking tickets created by an enterprise system. But that became increasingly difficult as its volumes grew.
So after researching its options, the company installed a warehouse management system (WMS) from PathGuide Technologies at its Cincinnati location. The Latitude WMS solution is designed for small and midsized operations with limited budgets. At the same time, Becker purchased bar-code scanners from Intermec (now a part of Honeywell) to provide real-time transactional information.
"Now, we pick, receive, and ship using the WMS and the scanners. The systems allow us to do a much better job of tracking our inventory," says Nick Ruscher, Becker's operations warehouse manager. Getting workers up to speed is also much easier, he says. "With the paper-based system, it took us six months to train a worker well. With scanners, we can train them in a week. When we ask our long-term employees if they would want to go back to the way we did things before, they say they absolutely would not want to go back."
Based on its success with the system in Cincinnati, the company installed the WMS at the other large distribution operations in Dayton and Columbus. Currently, about 20 scanners are used in Cincinnati, 15 in Dayton, and 10 in Columbus. The combination of the software and scanners has supported growth, while boosting operating efficiency. Workers can now pick five orders in the time it took to pick a single order with paper. Ruscher cites an example from the Cincinnati facility, where 12 people can now perform picking tasks that previously required 18, while handling upwards of 50 percent more volume.
Accuracy has improved as well. "Right now, we ship about 15,500 lines per month, and we are averaging only about seven errors," says Ruscher. That compares with 20 errors per month while handling less volume with paper-based picking.
And there's one more benefit: The ability of the WMS to manage inventory has eliminated the need to do an annual count. "Everyone hates inventory time," says Ruscher. "I can't tell you how happy we are not to have to do a physical inventory anymore."