Pros and Cons of Serial Number Management

Managing Director

Serial numbers are a powerful tool in SAP’s armoury, allowing warehouse managers to access information at an individual unit or piece of equipment level rather than at pallet level. Without the serial number or equipment master record, warehouse staff would typically rely on the material or and/or batch master record which would contain all of the data for describing and managing a piece of material (e.g. a pallet), but which does not enable you to differentiate between individual items of that material.

Serial advantage

The key advantage for those utilising serial number management is an enhanced ability to monitor and track inventory. The option to track stock at an individual item level is clearly an attractive one, particularly to those dealing in industries which require after sales customer service and under-warranty returns. In practice the process works quite simply and, in conjunction with Handling Unit Management, serial number management allows warehouse operators to receive serialised materials and track exactly where each unit is located throughout the supply chain, whether that is on the receiving dock, in a specific bin in the warehouse or issued to another site or customer. Therefore, it is now possible to not only know how much of a particular item you have in a warehouse at any one time and where the item is located, but you now also know which warehouse bin location contains which specific individual serialised unit(s).

Enhanced stock overview

Each material has its own label with a unique identifier so that when one is removed, all the picker needs to do is scan that label and the central record of both the item and the pallet will be updated accordingly. This not only affords a detailed stock overview, but enables accurate tracking of returned and faulty goods. Because of the track and traceability power it offers, serial number management is most typically employed by warehouses processing stock such as consumer electronics, along with those in the automotive and assembly unit industries.

An extended history of materials

If a pallet of six microwaves is received by the warehouse, managers can track which item has gone where, and when, at any point in the supply chain. The manufacturer can also delve deeper, using serial number management to bring up the service history and warranty status of each microwave, a critical additional layer of traceability for such industries.

Is it right for you?

However, serial number management is not necessarily something you should be rushing to implement. Not every sector requires such depth in its tracking ability, and some operate warehouses without ever requiring such a detailed level of information about their stock. The flipside of serial number management is that an added level of transactional compliance is demanded, where warehouse operatives must perform additional scans or entries to accurately capture relevant data. If manually entering the serial numbers, this presents multiple additional opportunities for mistakes to be made, and in the case of scanning of other automated entry methods, extra chances to overlook stock entry or registration of picking. For those industries where only an idea of the stock levels of a material are required, rather than specific unit level stock information, managers would perhaps opt for more straightforward warehousing functionality with less transactional compliance for the end user.

An elegant solution

In our experience, serial number management is a critical option for those utilising SAP WM who absolutely require detailed track and trace of stock at an individual item level. It provides an elegant solution within the existing SAP architecture and, for those who require such functionality, its benefits far outweigh the inconvenience of additional transactions.

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