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Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative Tackles Warehouse Complexity

By April 12, 2023Uncategorized

I recently attended Körber Supply Chain’s user conference, Elevate 2023. I was in the midst of updating ARC Advisory Group’s research on the independent WMS consultancy market at that time. I therefore took the opportunity to meet with a few of the independent consultants in attendance. I also met with some the consultants’ customers that adopted Körber solutions. SMECO, Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative, was one of those companies.

Many years ago, I conducted research on the GIS market and through that process learned that electric distribution companies have challenges distinct from many other organizations. Perhaps the most notable is the extensive network of distributed assets that must be managed and maintained. Secondarily, many of the assets are linear, rather than discrete, requiring different forms of location and measurement data. For example, instead of traditional longitude latitude coordinates, electric power distribution companies often use approaches such as linear referencing and network connectivity to describe asset context and attributes. From the perspective of warehousing and distribution, inventory is related to the assets in the field that distribute power to customers within the region.

SMECO’s Service Area and Field Support

SMECO’s service area spans across four counties in southern Maryland. The co-op is responsible for electricity distribution and transmission across this area. Asset management and maintenance operations are supported by the warehouse at the corporate headquarters and a secondary warehouse. The organization is using Hitachi Ellipse as its enterprise asset management system (EAM). The EAM system offers adequate support for work orders and inventory management, but is a paper-based system for warehouse operations. When a work order is created, the system prints out the materials required and only identifies inventory down to the warehouse level – not specific storage location. The organization stored items in a logical manner, such as alphabetically, but did not slot for warehouse labor productivity. SMECO felt that inventory accuracy and warehouse labor task efficiency could be improved substantially, so they hired Alpine Supply Chain  to assist them through the process.

WMS Requirements and Selection

SMECO and Alpine embarked on a WMS evaluation process with a focus on the important considerations, capabilities, and functional requirements for SMECO’s needs. Initial considerations included the financial stability of the WMS provider, its list of major customers, and future solution roadmap. SMECO and Alpine together arrived at a list of nine qualified WMS vendors to which they sent RFPs. SMECO’s RFP included a couple requirements of specific interest to its needs. For example, SMECO wanted RFID capabilities to track the movement of high-value items as they entered and exited the yard. Somewhat uniquely, SMECO needed to track inventory in lengths, such as by the length of cable withdrawn from a reel in the yard. At the conclusion of a job, field workers would then return partially used reels of cable and wire. Subsequently, the partially used reels would be reissued by a different field crew at its time of need.

SMECO Selects Körber Warehouse Edge

SMECO determined that Körber Warehouse Edge would best meet its requirements and moved forward with the implementation. Warehouse Edge has been live at SMECO’s two warehouses for approximately one year. Inventory storage has been reorganized to increase efficiency – with items stored in bins and bins located in zones. The system supports SMECOs fairly complex pick orders that are split between items stored indoors and outdoors. RFID is utilized for high-value yard/outdoor items. And Warehouse Edge was configured to enable inventory quantity to be issued and identified by full reels using a batch lot functionality. This allowed the items to be uniquely identified so the amount used per order could be entered and tracked in the EAM system. In all, the SMECO staff to whom I spoke were happy with the project process and outcome.

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