The handling unit has become a powerful tool for warehouse managers using SAP, helping to cut down on errors, improve stock management and increase efficiency. But many are still in the dark about the benefits of handling units, or are not using them to their full potential.
A ‘handling unit’ essentially refers to any unit of packaging and the goods contained on or in it. Within SAP, the handling unit contains key information such as identification number (SSCC), weight, volume, status, product detail and quantity of each item contained. But the advantages of handling units go far beyond just the information the units carry; they are incredibly versatile and can be applied throughout the logistics chain from point of manufacture to end-user.
Some clients have researched handling units as a means of fulfilling compliance requirements, but many are interested in the productivity, shipping accuracy, inventory accuracy and flexible control the solution affords.
Here are five reasons why you should be using handling units and how you can utilise them to make your warehouse operations run more smoothly.
One label for life
A barcode label representing the unique handling unit can be printed and affixed to a carton of products. Remaining with the carton throughout the supply chain, the label’s information can be quickly changed through SAP by simply scanning the barcode and editing the information fields. Without handling units, not only would a carton potentially require more than one barcode to represent each piece of information, it would also need each label to be reprinted after changes to the information fields were made. Additionally, using handling units means that a label can remain with a pallet even during movements between plants, and subsequent movements or stock postings at the receiving plant. Without a handling unit label, such movements between plants would require that a new pallet label is printed and applied at the receiving plant.
Eliminating errors when nesting
When using handling unit management, several cartons can grouped together as a single handling unit and be palletised together, or ‘nested’. While each carton would be individually labelled, the pallet would also carry a ‘parent’ handling unit label that would enable the movement of all cartons contained with a single scan. For example; if you were to place four cartons, each containing four toasters, on to a pallet, SAP would automatically calculate that the pallet contained 16 toasters. Not only would a pallet label contain this information, it could differentiate between the batch/serial number of each toaster. Handling units allow for key information to be accurately tracked and updated, while eliminating time-intensive and error-filled manual input and label reprinting.
Efficiently tracking stock movement
A handling unit can be moved around a warehouse (i.e. placed into or taken out of a bin) quickly and easily, with little or no margin for error. All that is required is for a picker to scan the item being moved and to know the destination bin for placement. Without handling units, such a process demands the worker moving any inventory to either perform multiple barcode scans or to enter the various data elements manually.
The SAP system can use unique handling unit identifiers to record a history of movement. Down to an individual item or serial number, managers can access and analyse data such as goods receipts, goods issues, posting changes, physical inventories and even bin-to-bin movements. Indeed, if an item has passed through manufacture and two different warehouses before delivery, an end-user can still review information such as batch number or point of origin.
Paving the way for the future
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is expected to revolutionise stock and warehouse management. SAP’s potential RFID solution uses tags that contain all of the information that a barcode would, but also broadcasts its location, paving the way for a truly automated system with no manual input or label scanning. Such a solution demands the accuracy and information that handling units provide, meaning they are vital for SAP’s RFID solution to function properly.
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