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Next-Generation Materials Management For Manufacturing

Over the past few decades, ongoing technological innovation—including ERP software—has enabled manufacturers to lean their production processes and compete more effectively in global markets. For many companies, however, materials management remains a slow, inefficient process rife with human error and mostly driven by historical rather than real-time data.

Take inventory management. ERP software has streamlined the inventory tracking process to a large degree by moving it from a paper file folder to a digital database. But if your inventory isn’t next to the computer, you still have to write it down on a piece of paper, walk over to the computer, and then manually enter the data into the system. This takes time and opens the door to the mistakes that inevitably occurs with hand-written data. And unless you shut down operations every time you count a piece of inventory or conduct a bin-to-bin transfer, the data is always one step behind what’s actually happening on the shop floor.

Integrating the latest in barcode scanning, handheld printing, and mobile device technologies, ERP software is rapidly redefining the way companies perform the materials management process. From physical inventory to shipments, purchase order receipts, inventory transfers and more, mobile materials management (M3) is giving manufacturers unprecedented levels of speed, visibility and control.

Imagine knowing where every piece of raw material is in your plant—and being able to locate it instantly. Envision moving inventory from one bin to another while accurately documenting the entire transaction right there on the shop floor, in real time. Or printing move tickets anywhere on the shop floor as you assign and pull parts to work in progress. With mobile materials management, all these activities are quickly and easily accomplished, and then recorded and managed in the ERP system, thereby ensuring the accuracy and integrity of the data.

Barcoding on Steroids

Lean materials management starts with barcoding incoming parts and raw materials, as well as all types of inventory. M3 puts new muscle into the barcoding process by transforming it from a stationary to a mobile activity, allowing companies to streamline material transactions, improve inventory accuracy, and take faster physical inventory and cycle counts.

Whether receiving incoming raw materials, counting inventory in the warehouse, or transferring parts on the shop floor, the person handling the material simply scans the barcoded label and the mobile system records the transaction in real time. Not only does this eliminate the data entry errors that occur when tracking barcoded labels by hand, it also produces real-time transactional labels that speed up the materials management process.

For example, with configured options you can automatically receive parts into the inventory default bin or stocking bin. Simply scan the label, and the data instantly goes on the Inventory Master. For lightning-fast bin-to-bin transfers, scan the barcode label on the bin where you pull the part, scan again when the part goes into a different bin, and you’re done.

M3 also lets workers issue material at the point of picking for a work order, enabling material handlers to process transactions and update inventory and WIP in real-time. Employees can scan the material sequence on the work order, which greatly reduces the number of clicks and screens required to issue material from raw material inventory to WIP. They can also label materials picked to WIP by printing a transactional issue-to-work order label.

Take the case of Fast Manufacturing, a family owned producer of liquid fertilizer applicator and sprayer products in Mountain Lake, Minnesota. Previously, the company manually received and inventoried all purchased parts. With M3, when those parts come through the door, employees now scan the barcoded purchase orders to automatically receive the materials into inventory.

Wireless scanning also streamlined their bin-to-bin transfer process, which used to require a hand-written report indicating when and where to move parts. Now, workers wirelessly scan the parts right on the floor, improving the accuracy of the transfers and the accountability of those involved in the transaction.

“Our head of receiving really likes M3,” says CFO and second-generation family member Cody Fast. “Her team scans inventory items straight from the purchase order, the system automatically receives the part, and it prints out the bar code label for the part on the spot. It’s fast, efficient, and provides excellent traceability of the parts.”

Doing More With Mobile

When properly deployed, M3 transforms the materials tracking process in many ways.

  • Mobile tool tracking. M3 streamlines the tool tracking process through wireless receipt of purchase orders in the tool room and bin transfers to tool vending machines. Simply scan the employee, job, part, and tool and you’re good to go. It also facilitates the direct dispensing and storage of materials from vending machines.
  • Finished goods tracking. From the point of finished production until you document a completed part and pull it for shipment, M3 delivers unprecedented control over finished goods inventory. Scan the label on the finished good as you transact each step of the process, and the ERP system automatically records the data.
  • Physical inventory. M3 produces fast, reliable count verifications and updates. Workers can run cycle counts in real-time without having to temporarily stop production, make on-the-fly adjustments to part and lot-bin counts, and print new barcode labels on the spot.
  • Move tickets. Moving physical inventory around the shop floor is quick and easy with M3. Move tickets can be scanned into the mobile system and then printed with a portable label printer from anywhere on the shop floor.
  • Shipping and staging. Even shipping is faster and more efficient with M3. Scanning and validating as you pull the product ensures that you ship the right product and quantity. And with handheld devices, you can print paperwork from anywhere in the plant.

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