Key Types of Warehouse Management Systems

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For businesses that deal in third-party logistics (3PL), WMS software (Warehouse Management System) plays a key role in their operations. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to pick the right one. There are several different types of warehouse management systems, and a huge number of options within each of these categories. In order to make an informed decision, you’ve got to understand what the options are, why they differ and which is best suited for your company.

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Examples of Top Warehouse Management Software

When you break it down, there are basically three types of WMS systems for 3PL businesses. These are standalone warehouse management, supply chain execution modules and integrated ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems. It should be noted that the functions and features of each are largely the same; it’s the package and style of delivery that differs.

Getting to Grips with the Basic

The various types of warehouse management software offers a huge range of benefits. It helps users reduce their operating expenses by cutting labor and space waste. With WMS software, businesses can take control of inventory. It becomes easier to perform cycle counts, track shipments and monitor expiration dates, among other things. It improves inventory visibility through barcoding, serial numbers and RFID tagging features that keep inventory organized.

WMS helps users optimize their inventory transportation both internally and externally through inventory tracking functionality. There are also tools for optimizing receiving, putaway, slotting, picking, packing and shipping duties.

WMS offers a tool or module to tackle any aspect of warehouse systems, and each come with their own pros and cons.

Types of Warehouse Management Systems

So now let’s dive into the main 3 types of warehouse management systems:

1. Standalone WMS

Standalone systems are bought for their warehouse management features and nothing else. These types of warehousing systems can be combined with existing or future solutions, but it’s sold as a specialized product without further supply chain functions. Some vendors offer a handful of basic transportation management tools, however, the focus is on best-of-breed WMS.

Best-of-breed can be thought of as selective breeding – it only includes the best, most important features of all the potential warehouse management system modules. For WMS, this typically consists of inventory management and warehouse operations. Users of standalone WMS should expect expiration date tracking, barcode scanning, cycle counting, slotting, putaway, receiving, picking, packing and shipping.

As warehousing management systems go, standalone WMS is the most basic. It’s often included as one of the types of inventory management systems as it can be applied to many industries beyond warehouse management. This makes it an ideal solution for SMBs or businesses that don’t have much budget for software. It doesn’t incorporate any other steps of the logistics chain and may not integrate as well with other kinds of business software as some of the following types of warehouse management systems.

2. Supply Chain Modules

When considering different types of WMS systems, you might think about them as a subcategory of supply chain management (SCM). Supply chain management software has a broad scope – it helps users manage everything from vendor relationships to business processes to risk assessment. It focuses on automating tasks like inventory management, material sourcing and product cycles.

Choosing this type of warehouse management system requires investing in supply chain planning applications that also offer warehousing features. It’s a common route, as it gives 3PL businesses the chance to explore the many benefits of SCM. Combining WMS with other applications is a good way to ensure there’s plenty of cohesion between different parts of the business. It supports holistic management of the whole supply chain, while standalone solutions cover warehousing only.

If you’re going to opt for this route, it’s important to minimize overlaps within your existing software. For example, if you already use fleet management, inventory management and warehouse management software solutions, you could potentially combine them all into a single SCM platform. Another way to avoid overlap is to choose an SCM that is easily integrated with other business software like payroll and ERP software – which brings us to the next option for WMS.

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3. Integrated with ERP

ERP is a powerful software solution that combines the capabilities of many other systems. It offers most of the core applications that make 3PL processes go smoothly: from supply chain planning, accounting, customer relationship management, human resources and more. ERP is a good option for businesses looking to upgrade their software solutions on a larger scale. This is an excellent move for enterprises looking to get a competitive edge and improve their ROI. They are specialized systems that offer robust supply chain execution and scalability.

Integrated ERP systems can offer warehouse management features, but it’s not a core function of ERP. Keep that in mind when shopping for ERP software. Make sure the solution you choose provides features for warehouse management ahead of time.

This type of warehouse management system also comes with a heftier price tag – think of it as the jack of all trades of software. Because of this broad scope, ERP can replace a host of other software applications and centralize your operations into a single interface. If you’re dissatisfied with other software solutions you currently utilize or want to consolidate them into a single system (and payment!) then ERP may be the best option for you.

WMS as a supply chain module and as an integration with ERP are different from standalone systems because they provide warehouse management as part of a tool with broader capabilities. So the first decision to make is whether you want to invest in a specialized WMS, or whether you’d benefit more from a combined product. The answer depends on the size and goals of your business.

A Note on Inventory Management Systems

It’s common to find warehouse management and inventory management being used interchangeably. However, these are different systems, and understanding the differences is important. An inventory management system is a lighter, more basic version of WMS, with a greater focus on stock counting and automated order fulfillment.

While it offers some of the same features as WMS, inventory management isn’t as robust or sophisticated. If you’re running a reasonably complex operation within a mid-sized or enterprise organization, it’s likely warehouse management, SCM or ERP that you need. Smaller businesses can get away with isolated inventory applications, but there’s a good chance an upgrade will be required at some point, particularly as you grow.

Finding the Right Software for 3PL

So now we know the difference between these types of warehouse management systems. The next question is: which option is the best choice for your business? To find an answer, you need to examine the specialized functionalities that 3PL companies get from their warehouse management systems. Once you know what you need, you can search for the most suitable version. We recommend identifying your requirements first and shortlisting solutions based on which platforms perform those functions best. It’s also important to consider vendor reputation by reading reviews.
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Value-Added Services

For companies that deal with value-added services (kitting, light assembly, etc.), it’s a good idea to invest in software that tracks progress and payments. The best choice, in this regard, is a standalone WMS built specifically for third-party logistics. The simplicity of the standalone system allows you to focus on what you need – without a significant supply of inventory or the complexities of other SCM activities, keeping it simple can make your life a lot easier.

It’s common for 3PL providers to require precise labeling features. Labeling is a feature of many standalone WMS products, but there’s a lot of variation among vendors. If it’s a major part of the services you provide, it’s a good idea to pay a little more for custom tools. Look for a best-of-breed WMS that has the capacity to handle custom labeling.

Multiple Client/Owner Architectures

The majority of 3PL companies need a WMS that can manage inventory and purchase order processing for multiple clients. This isn’t a concern if you’re handling products for just one client. However, it’s the norm for warehouses (certainly larger ones) to deal with a long list of customers all at the same time. If this is the case for your business, the more robust offerings of an SCM or ERP warehousing management module may be the right fit for you.

One area where some businesses get tripped up is the definition of “multi-client.” It’s important to be aware that, when dealing with cloud-based software, the term can also refer to multiple companies using a single cloud server. When shopping for a WMS, make sure the vendor is actually offering a multi-client architecture, not just a shared server.

Third-Party Logistics Billing

Your WMS must offer specific types of inventory tracking and service contract processing. They’re essential for 3PL companies because they ensure invoices are never lost or skipped over. 3PL billing is the best way to automate putaway, receiving, storage and shipping, so that charges are always punctual and accurate.

You’ll find 3PL billing functions in most standalone WMS. They’re also a common feature of supply chain solutions, particularly when designed with logistics in mind. It’s possible to invest in ERP systems with these features, but they’re less common. You might have to search a little more extensively to find them.

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Selecting the Right WMS

There are, of course, other functionalities you can factor into your decision. Parcel carrier shipping, client web portals and inbound quality control auditing are just a few of the processes that might be central to your operation. However, you can use the following scenarios as a starting point for selection.

Standalone, best-of-breed WMS is the ideal choice for 3PL businesses that offer value-added services and require high levels of client visibility. WMS as a feature of supply chain software is best for businesses that want to optimize and enhance the whole supply chain. Finally, ERP-based products are great if you need 3PL billing and want advanced reporting tools. Assess which type of WMS fits your needs and infrastructure the best. This ensures that you choose the best type of WMS for your business, setting you up for plenty of warehousing success.

To choose the right system for your organization, follow these easy steps:

  • Gather your requirements. We recommend starting by identifying the features of WMS that your organization will use most heavily. This ensures that you only consider solutions that can meet your unique needs. This interactive requirements template will help guide you through this process.
  • Compare solutions. Once you know which features are key for your organization, you can begin comparing WMS solutions based on how well they meet your requirements. This WMS comparison report breaks down industry leaders and assigns each scores for their performance for key features.
  • Shortlist and request Information. Choose the top five or six solutions that meet your requirements most thoroughly and reach out to the vendors. You can get a personalized price quote and request demos and trials of each system to gauge how user-friendly it is. To get a general feel for industry pricing, check out this WMS pricing guide.

Top Warehouse Management System Examples

With some general WMS knowledge in the bank about the types of warehouse management systems finding the right product can be less overwhelming. To give you even more of a head start, our SelectHub Analysts have put together this list of the top contenders in the warehouse management market:
Compare Top Warehouse Management Software Leaders

Oracle Warehouse Management Cloud

Oracle’s WMS offering works with businesses of all sizes and gives users full visibility into their inventory. It contains a robust suite of features that serve industries including e-commerce, logistics, distribution, wholesale, logistics and more. Some of its supported features are multichannel selling, warehouse intelligence, labor productivity management and materials handling.

Oracle Warehouse Management Cloud

Oracle Warehouse Management Cloud gives users quick visibility into vital metrics.

Top Benefits

  • Receiving, Cross-Docking and Directed Putaway: Efficiently organize inbound and outbound shipments while directing putaway products to the desired destination.
  • Reverse Logistics Management: Helps users process returns with reverse logistics process support for manufacturers, retailers and third-party logistics providers.
  • Value-Added Services: Supports custom VAS services that users can configure to meet their requirements. Some options include custom labeling and tagging.
  • Tasking and Location Management: Assign tasks to employees with complementary experience and skill sets. These assignments can also be based on the proximity of the employee to the task in question and the priority level of the task.
  • Cycle Counting: Automates inventory cycle counting for improved accuracy. Cycle counts can run alongside other warehousing processes simultaneously.

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Key Features

  • Multi-Channel Fulfillment: Supports logistics and warehousing fulfillment processes from all browser-based devices. It also includes cross-dock and to-store management, inbound and outbound fulfillment execution, reverse logistics and value-added services.
  • Store Inventory Management and Fulfillment: Manage items outside of normal warehouses, including stock rooms and stores. It provides real-time visibility into pre-receiving, receiving, stock replenishment, inventory and physical counts, omnichannel fulfillment and returns.
  • Workforce Management: Managers can leverage this feature to correct labor inefficiencies and strengthen the overall performance of their warehouses. KPIs can be measured against quantifiable goals to help users discover inefficient processes. It also includes a configurable user interface and radio frequency support.
  • Analytics and Dashboards: Included dashboards give users quick access to key metrics across multiple sourcing locations, warehouses and stores. Intelligent reports, helpful alerts and scheduling features help users generate actionable insights to improve warehouse performance.
  • Automation: Connect with automated facility controls. A series of provided APIs streamlines communications between the system itself and the user’s warehouse control system.

Limitations

  • Doesn’t support nested License Plate Numbers (LPNs) with pick loads.
  • Doesn’t support bulk pricing for carton items
Price: $$$$$
Deployment:
Platform:

Company Size Suitability: S M L

SAP Extended Warehouse Management

SAP Extended Warehouse Management is built for businesses of all sizes and is available as a cloud or self-hosted solution. It optimizes warehousing processes by integrating supply chain logistics. This system serves industries including aerospace and defense, consumer products, automotive, retail, high-tech, wholesale and more.

It provides features that support yard management, inbound optimization, shipment notifications, quality management, physical inventory, order optimization, slotting and rearrangement, replenishment, wave management and more.

SAP Extended Warehouse Management

Users can view relevant information for all outgoing deliveries with SAP EWM.

Top Benefits

  • Advanced Production Integration: Integrates with manufacturing order processing features within SAP ERP. It also lets users stage materials and receive semi-finished and completed items in SAP EWM. It’s advanced production integrations let users plan out production planning for products while synchronizing material flows between warehouse and production areas.
  • Shipping: Supports yard management, transportation management, loading and unloading, docking and all transportation in and out of the warehouse.
  • Business Partner ID Mapping: Maps valuable vendor and customer data. This information can be added to creatable business partners. The system can only create business partners if the customer and vendor are a single entity that can be integrated into a single partner.
  • SAP Dock Appointment Scheduling: Reflect status changes to loading appointments and related activities between SAP Dock Appointment Scheduling and SAP EWM. It also uses a shipping cockpit to monitor outbound loading appointments.
  • Labor Management: Leverages SAP BI Content to give users access to BI objects and data to streamline strategic planning. Short-term operational planning features allow users to define goals based on employees in the warehouse, workloads and the calculated measurement service. It also supports employee performance evaluations, execution analysis, recording execution and more.

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Key Features

  • Storage Bin Management: Set up high-rack storage areas, bulk storage, automatic warehouses and fixed bin warehouses. Products can be assigned to designated storage bins depending on size and frequency of access. The system is integrated with SAP Inventory Management to help balance and match warehouse stock.
  • Goods Movement: Supports all goods movement processes like stock transfers, goods issues, goods receipts, dangerous goods management and automatic replenishment.
  • Work Center: Map a physical unit within the warehouse to carry out packing, weighing, deconsolidation, counting and quality inspections. Users can customize work centers to display relevant information about their warehousing operations.
  • Physical Inventory: Leverage a difference monitor with configurable tolerance groups to define maximum values for difference posting. The system supports automatic posting according to inventory procedure priorities, zero stock checks, low stock checks and time intervals. Radiofrequency features streamline cycle counting, physical inventory putaway and physical inventory zero stock checks.
  • Planning and Monitoring: An overview of all processes and goods movements helps users plan, monitor and optimize their daily warehouse processes. It also gives users a look at future workloads so that preventative measures can be taken to avoid critical warehouses problems.

Limitations

  • No free trial
Price: $$$$$
Deployment:
Platform:

Company Size Suitability: S M L

Infor CloudSuite WMS

Infor CloudSuite WMS supports medium and large-sized businesses in a variety of industries, including consumer electronics, retail, healthcare, food and beverage, high-tech, distribution, industrial, hospitality and more. It gives users visibility into equipment, people and orders to manage product velocity and service levels.

Some of its features include, but are not limited to, inventory management and visibility, 3PL billing, warehouse fulfillment, 3D analysis and task management.

Infor CloudSuite WMS

Quickly view important metrics, like inventory levels, for outbound items.

Top Benefits

  • Personalized Services: Supports kitting, bundling, light assembly, compliance labeling and special packs. Users can also integrate tailored deliveries and customer-specific configurations.
  • Languages: Supports 14 different languages.
  • 3D Visual Warehouse: Embedded interface lets users visualize their distribution centers while managing workflows, at-risk inventory and bottlenecks. It also helps administer corrective actions to reduce delays and boost productivity.
  • Scalability: Supports growing businesses with auto-scaling tools that proactively add and remove capacity based on scaling KPIs and usage patterns. It can compute and predict resource demands with AI, machine learning and automated monitoring.
  • Data and System Governance: Automatically monitors statutory and regulatory standards. Using this information, it can proactively update critical applications. The system’s localization platform supports e-auditing, statutory reporting, banking, tax reporting, e-invoicing, tax calculation and trade statistic reporting for Infor CloudSuite solutions.

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Key Features

  • Receiving and Putaway: Includes cross-docking, returns, QC inspections, appointment scheduling and flow-through. Voice and RF-enabled activities are supported, along with mixed, rainbow and multi-pallet operations.
  • Inventory Management: Helps manage fulfillment for multi-owner and multi-site operations. It provides real-time, system-driven and attribute-based cycle counting. License Plate Number (LPN) controlled tracking is also available.
  • Picking and Replenishment: Leverage e-commerce, kitting, voice, RF and allocation requirements. The system also supports cluster, order and consolidation picking along with dynamic replenishment. Users can optimize space utilization and stock rotations with automated tools.
  • Wave and Task Management: Manage cycle times, focus on balancing workloads and build optimized shipments with configurable release and escalation rules. Flexible graphic queries can also let users view outstanding work.
  • Labor Management: Assess and measure distribution center activities to help boost operational efficiency. Scenarios can be analyzed with real-time metrics and engineered labor standards.

Limitations

  • No free trial.
  • Mobile applications are not available.
Price: $$$$$
Deployment:
Platform:

Company Size Suitability: S M L

Fishbowl Warehouse

Fishbowl Warehouse is a cloud-based solution suited for small to medium-sized businesses. This business automation platform helps users streamline and optimize their warehouses with features like order management and purchase tracking.

This system also supports parts tracking, inventory management, shipping, sales, purchasing and more. Fishbowl Warehouse serves multiple industries, including cannabis, e-commerce, professional services, manufacturing, distribution and more. It also provides a mobile app for boosted accessibility.

Fishbowl Warehouse

Dashboards display vital information in an easy to access hub.

Top Benefits

  • Amazon Integration: Integration with Amazon automatically updates inventory records whenever a sale takes place. After an Amazon order is received, Fishbowl designates what is picked, packed and shipped to customers. Companies using third-party fulfillment services can leverage Fishbowl Warehouse as a drop-shipping tool as well.
  • Salesforce Integration: Lets users in the field check inventory levels, and any other relevant data, before completing a sale. Fishbowl automatically sends inventory data to the Salesforce interface, it also sends order details to the shipping department after a sale is completed.
  • Multiple Currencies: Integrates user currency preferences with QuickBooks, assigns currencies to vendors and customers and converts purchase and sales order currencies into local types.
  • Fishbowl Go: Leverage barcode scanners, tablets, smartphones and other wireless mobile devices to scan and generate barcodes. Barcode scanners can assign UPCs to parts, cycle count inventory and pick, pack and ship products. They can also help users receive inventory, check part information and track orders.
  • Sales Data Module: Displays sales revenue and other important information on an interactive world map. Users can zoom in and out of products to view sale histories.

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Key Features

  • QuickBooks Integration: Integrates with all desktop versions of QuickBooks and QuickBooks Online. It eliminates double entry by automatically updating inventory and accounting records.
  • Xero Integration: Ensures that all updates and orders in the Fishbowl Warehouse system are used to update the accounting solution. It also transfers inventory data to general ledgers, cycle counts, scrapped inventory and other adjustments to Xero.
  • Multiple Locations: Track inventory and view up-to-date inventory information across multiple locations. They can also view sales trends and transfer stock between locations.
  • Part Tracking: Automatically re-orders parts when supplies are low, identifies part locations in the warehouse and tracks products by tag, lot, serial and revision numbers. It also complies product manufacturing and labor costs to simplify accounting processes.
  • Order Management: Create purchase orders, pick tickets, sales orders and other vital documents. Automatic re-order points and in-depth warehouse reports can help keep warehouses running at optimal efficiency. It streamlines order fulfillment by picking multiple orders in one sweep of a warehouse.

Limitations

  • Yard management is not included in this system.
Price: $$$$$
Deployment:
Platform:

Company Size Suitability: S M L

TradeGecko

TradeGecko is an order and inventory management solution geared toward small to medium-sized businesses. It integrates with popular applications like Shopify WooCommerce and Magento so users can sell through e-commerce marketplaces. TradeGecko supports multiple industries, including sports, electronics, fashion and apparel, cosmetics, interior design and more.

It includes features like order management, warehouse management, inventory management, purchase orders, price list management, shipping, order fulfillment and more.

TradeGecko

Analytics and reporting tools give users insight into daily processes.

Top Benefits

  • B2B E-Commerce Platform: Gives users a private URL to an online store with a searchable catalog for bulk sales. Its prices and discounts are customizable per wholesale customer. Businesses can create custom price lists, advertise offers and featured items, manage order processes, accept credit card payments and more.
  • Customer Sales Order Reports: View customers by generated revenue and profits. TradeGecko displays other helpful metrics like generated sales volume, average profit, projected profit, number of orders, average sales and more.
  • Multiple Currencies: Supports online selling for all countries and currencies. Users can manage their base currency before transitioning to the customer’s currency type.
  • Native iOS Application: Mobile-optimized application features barcode scanning, order creation and management, product catalogs, customer data access, map views and a device camera usage to snap and send product images.
  • Application Marketplace: Businesses can use the application marketplace to manage and add integrations with WooCommerce, Shopify, Xero and more.

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Key Features

  • Inventory Control: Displays a complete list of on-hand stock, committed stock, moving average cost and stock histories through its inventory control module. Products can be edited to include images, SKU codes, barcodes, supply codes and more. Users can make stock adjustments, use barcode scanners and track reorder levels.
  • Inventory Optimization and Lokad Integration: Integrate their Lokad account to optimize inventory with automated demand forecasting. The Lokad app is also available as a third-party integration from the app store. Lokad Salescast automatically calculates re-order amounts based on inventory records. This integration also lets users automatically generate metrics for lead demands, order quantities, reorder points and more.
  • Warehouse Management: Handle the daily processes of goods and their movement between multiple warehouses. Users can create stock transfer documents and purchase orders with specific stock receiving instructions. It boosts real-time collaboration between warehouse teams and tracks stock across multiple locations with BIN locations.
  • Multichannel Sales: A central hub lets users monitor orders, inventory and product information for all sales channels. It automatically syncs multiple sales channels with the central inventory. Users can upload product details and push them to all of their sales channels.
  • Price List Management: Leverage a price list importer to add or change product prices, assign special discounts for select customers, set price breaks and access custom price lists through a mobile application.

Limitations

  • No native Android application.
Price: $$$$$
Deployment:
Platform:

Company Size Suitability: S M L

Final Thoughts

There’s a lot to consider when wading into the market given the different types of warehouse management systems. Ensure that your short-list of products contains vendors that can pass on real benefits to your business. Take your time, consider all your options and take a look at our comparison list of the best WMS solutions on the market.

How has implementing a WMS changed your operation? Let us know with a comment below!

Hunter LoweKey Types of Warehouse Management Systems

10 comments

Join the conversation
  • jyoti sharma - June 12, 2018 reply

    It’s generally agreed that there are three types of WMS for 3PL businesses. These are standalone warehouse management, supply chain execution modules and integrated ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems.

  • Nick - June 3, 2019 reply

    Nice article on retail supply chain. Found an interesting article on warehouse management tips.

    Hunter Lowe - June 3, 2019 reply

    Hi Nick! I’m glad you liked the post, thanks for the comment!

    Williams Allagbo - June 28, 2019 reply

    i stand to anticipate articles on effective warehouse management practices.

  • Nick - June 21, 2019 reply

    Nice article on WMS. Found an interesting article on reducing chargebacks in retail supply chain in this article.

  • Sarah - July 28, 2019 reply

    I’m a logistics student this is a very good article, however, I am supposed to be looking at the safety aspect of having or using these systems so I am lost as to how to incorporate that into the definition or use in a warehouse.

  • Richard Ackley - November 9, 2019 reply

    We are establishing an light bulb manufacturing facilities and are looking to create an hands free warehouses. Our first warehouse will be approximately 5,000 sq. ft. Our second facility will have approximately 25,000 sq.ft. I’m seeking information on construction time and cost.
    Rich A.

  • Michaela Hemsley - January 13, 2020 reply

    Thanks for mentioning that when choosing a warehouse management system it’s important to identify what kind of requirements and solutions you need and then narrow it down from there. I think that it would be smart to look into talking to a professional warehousing company that could help you better narrow down what you needed and help make sure that you weren’t forgetting about anything that you might need in a warehouse service. That would probably help make things less stressful for you, and help make sure that your company could run better and have fewer issues with the warehousing side of it.

    Hunter Lowe - January 15, 2020 reply

    Hi Michaela!
    Thank you for the comment! Tackling what you need is definitely a great way to start hunting down a WMS. With so many vendors out there narrowing down your needs can help keep folks from being overwhelmed.

  • Rosie Beckett - March 18, 2020 reply

    It makes a lot of sense that you say it’s important to find a warehousing service by comparing different companies and seeing how well they meet your business requirements. My brother’s clothing company has been expanding and he doesn’t have space in his garage anymore to store all of the orders. I think that hiring a warehousing service would be a great way for him to save time and avoid stress. https://hetransolutions.com/warehousing/

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