Technology penetrated the retail and wholesale distribution center in the mid-1960s when IBM's Impact (later Inforem) system was introduced as a replenishment tool that also helped automate the filling up of store-bound trucks, noted Peter Charness, senior vice president of marketing, JDA Software, Scottsdale, Ariz.
manager, Manhattan Associates. Atlanta, A&P, Kroger, Safeway and Tesco were early users.
Prior to warehouse management systems, warehouse managers had to sort through a "mass of picking documents," breaking them out by section and temperature zone, said Little. The systems enabled managers to simply "turn on the terminal and follow instructions."
Warehouse management systems also issued picking instructions according to the layout of the facility, noted Neil Thall, executive vice president, professional services, Manhattan Associates. Warehouse design became more "scientific," with the highest-volume goods stored in the spots that were easiest to access, he said.
In the 1980s, handheld radio frequency (RF) terminals came out for forklift units in distribution centers, helping in the receiving and put-away process, said Frank Riso director of marketing, retail and logistics, Symbol Technologies, Holtsville, N.Y. But RF was not the norm in food warehouses until the 1990s, said Little.
Bar codes began to be used on cases during the past 15 years, which helped the development of robotic and RF picking, said Little.