The integration of warehouse automation at floor level and in the supporting backroom systems will be crucial to any organisation aiming to keep a foothold and increase their market share. From order picking and packing, to reporting and transportation routes, the harvesting and management of combined information and technology is now central to every business strategy.
Companies that implement new infrastructure, systems and solutions in the short term will find they are able to adapt fluidly to ongoing technical enhancements and upgrades that will now become the norm moving forward.
Integrating execution solutions such as warehouse management systems (WMS) and planning supply chain software is one the most efficient way to optimise the supply chain. Being aware of the constraints in the current system allows businesses to formulate a complete systems solution that can reach across a number of different software platforms.
Combining elements such as forecasting, demand planning and distributive order management with execution software used for warehousing, transportation and labour management will create an intelligent overview of the entire supply chain.
Customer demands are changing more rapidly than ever before and organisations need integrated solutions that spread across inventory management, planning and warehouse and transportation management.
Added to which, WMS solutions are increasingly heading towards being cloud based with Gartner predicting that by 2020 this will be the case for 90% of companies. The move towards the cloud has enabled great flexibility as the infrastructure for the system does not have to be rebuilt for every separate application.
The WES, WCS and WMS combination
To further extend WMS capabilities, warehouse execution systems (WES) and warehouse control systems (WCS) are becoming more widespread. These smaller, specialised systems sit below a WMS and manage automated material handling technology such as carousels, conveyors, storage and sorters. These machines need instructions at equipment level and a WMS is not able to provide the required level of control.
A WES is able to complement the WMS when it comes to processes such as waveless order picking. This is crucial for businesses changing to individual picking of units rather than pallets in preparation for a move into an e-commerce environment.
Batching orders in large waves is more problematic in omni-channel retailing. As a result, WES solutions are being developed to extend beyond just the material handling technology, merging closer into the WMS to become more aware of the full cycle of activities in the warehouse.
The future role of analytics
To further aid the integration of warehouse automation analytical systems are being combined with WMS systems and any connected software platforms. In real-time this helps locate the right resources, while sensing any constraints to ensure the most efficient outcome for the supply chain.
For example, if money can be saved by shipping direct from the supplier to the retail destination, rather than the supplier to the customer, the system will have the capability to identify it.
Analytics are going to continue to expand their influence over time to assist in the coordination of movement and storage of goods in the warehouse, while reaching beyond the limitations of the facility itself. This could be defined as helping to find optimal customer routes and identifying the most efficient spaces for products to be stored. For companies holding retail space, warehouses of the future will depend on robust analytics that can optimise order fulfilment while also sorting and placing goods in the right locations.
In the scenario where there are slow moving goods that move quickly in one supply chain location and these are not despatched to vendor facilities or stores at the right moment, it will more than likely lead to a monetary loss. Analytics will provide predictive data at the right time to ensure these risks are significantly reduced.