Material flow planning

What is material flow planning?

Optimizing the material flow reduces throughput times, decreases error rates and increases efficiency.

Material flow planning: The adjusting screw for efficient intralogistics

The effective interlocking of transport flows inside and outside the company is a central aspect of logistics. The better tasks can be coordinated and harmonized along the value chain, the shorter the throughput times and logistics costs in general. This is where material flow planning comes into play, because it forms the basis for transparent and effective processes.
proLogistik explains the most important components, explains the interaction of WMS and MFR and shows methods to optimize material flow planning.

What does material flow planning basically involve?

Even if it often seems "comprehensible" to outsiders, material and information flows are anything but negligible in the context of logistics. This is where it is decided how physical goods movements in any form can actually be realized and planned. The flow of goods is a key indicator of a company's performance, because it determines how efficiently goods of various kinds can be coordinated.

Aspects that take on significant importance in a material flow planning are:

  • Transportation
  • (Intermediate) storage
  • Cover
  • Machining and processing
  • Material inventories and changes in inventories
  • Recording of material consumption

In short, the goal of material flow planning is to provide any goods in exactly the specification (quantity, condition, etc.) at the appropriately planned time and place. For this to succeed, the interaction of the material flow computer (MFR) and the warehouse management system (WMS) is crucial - more on this in the next paragraph.

Material flow planning: For the best possible utilization of all operational resources

In the past, the material flow in the warehouse has mostly been adjusted in step with the increase in production. However, in view of the growing variety of product specifications, there is now a complex number of production variants to be managed, which must be taken into account with regard to internal material flow planning. Companies can secure competitive advantages by allowing more product customization, reducing lead times and thus ensuring a higher level of on-time delivery. It is therefore crucial to align the tasks occurring in a subarea in the best possible way and to plan material flows transparently and efficiently.

In other words, how can structures be planned and designed in such a way that all aspects, from incoming goods to outgoing goods, are taken into account holistically? Material flow planning as a segment of intralogistics therefore focuses on an optimization of material and goods inventory, space requirements and an effective interlocking of transport, warehouse and logistics processes. Material flow optimization follows production planning.

Excursus: How material flow computers (MFR) and warehouse management systems (WMS) work together

In order to give you an understanding of the content of material flow planning, we will first discuss important practical components. In the following, we therefore outline a scenario that can mostly be transferred across industries in this basic form.

  • The material flow computer (MFR) is responsible for the communication between the systems, it acts as an anchor point between the warehouse management system (WMS) and the control system aka the "Shipment Processing System" (SPS). Information about the status, capacities or transit times within the logistics flow together here.
  • The warehouse management system (WMS) is superordinate to the MFR and manages the inventory; transfer orders are created here and forwarded to the material flow computer. This allows control commands to be generated that can be used to control stacker cranes, packaging lines and the like.

As a result, the data bundled in the material flow computer (MFR) can be used to visualize processes thanks to material flow planning and to optimize transport routes. This allows the throughput to be adjusted to the respective utilization level in order to utilize all resources in the best possible way. A variety of control tools, for example via tablet or smartphone, further simplify handling. Material flow planning thus leads to more efficient processes in terms of the flow of goods, which not only pays off in business terms.

Material flow planning as an adjusting screw for holistic warehouse system management

After we have explained the basic features to you in practical terms, we would like to conclude by discussing aspects that each company must consider and weight individually when optimizing the flow of goods. A material flow analysis enables adjustments and restructuring of warehouse systems in order to eliminate weak points, save costs and minimize waste of resources (keyword: value stream).

The classical approach to adapt a material flow planning to the needs of the company:

  1. Preparation and determination of all relevant data (planning bases)
  2. Development of a concept as well as rough planning based on the product structure (specifications of the product range, including quantity, size, weight) and planning data (cost framework, deadlines, etc.)
  3. Cost-benefit analyses and economic feasibility studies of various solution approaches as well as definition of technical and organizational details
  4. Realization including coordination of construction steps

Material flow planning has special requirements that vary greatly depending on the size of the company, the industry and the variety of products. However, it is essential for a holistic optimization of transport routes, the basis for cost savings and further synergy effects.



Image: Robert Kneschke / Shutterstock

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