Empower E-Commerce Fulfillment With Intelligent Decision-Making
June 11, 2020
As the fulfillment wars escalate, distribution center (DC) operators are increasingly pressed to meet demanding service level agreements against an array of urgent challenges. Next-day and same-day delivery are becoming the standard, making the four-hour order fulfillment cycle the new reality.
What will it take to compete in this environment? The answer: advanced capabilities that can’t be delivered using traditional strategies or legacy software platforms alone. Consider the complexities introduced by the rapid shift to e-commerce:
- An expansive set of SKUs and seemingly infinite order profiles
- Unpredictable demand for single-line orders
- Seasonal fulfillment spikes, coupled with a tight labor market
- A mix of delivery agreements, ranging from next-day to next-week
This is not a storm that DCs can easily weather with incremental fixes. It requires a fundamentally different infrastructure that can provide:
- Real-time visibility into order status, inventory and fulfillment operations
- Dynamic capabilities that deliver more agility to DC operations
- Data-driven decision-making based on order priorities, labor availability and automation system status
That’s why modern warehouse execution systems (WES) are emerging as a key enabler in competitive DC operations. A WES — such as Momentum WES from Honeywell Intelligrated — is a holistic decision-making system designed to address the complexities of e-commerce driven order fulfillment. While some warehouse execution software offer limited process, system and equipment automation, a WES provides the full suite of capabilities DC operators need to balance workflows, prioritize orders, and execute warehouse assignments in real time.
DC operations are built on a carefully synchronized platform of material handling equipment, automated systems, robotics and manual workstations. While all of these components are interdependent — a delay or malfunction in one area can affect productivity in all areas — they are not necessarily connected. As a result, issues are not always immediately detectable and their root causes can be difficult to trace.
With a WES, DC operators have visibility into their entire operation from one interface. By collecting and analyzing data from every connected system and process, the WES removes guesswork related to:
- Order prioritization
- Order release
- Labor management
- Storage and pick path optimization
Armed with these insights, DC operators can make more informed decisions that align with daily throughput targets and profitability goals.
As DC operations increasingly integrate man- and machine-driven processes, operators are finding that they need to navigate a patchwork of disparate solutions. These automation silos often can’t communicate with each other, which ultimately hampers efficiency and productivity.
A WES is not designed to control one specific process. Rather, it gathers inputs from all of a facility’s unrelated software, material handling equipment and automation technologies to orchestrate fulfillment workflows. In fact, WES software has advanced to the point where it can even perform some upstream warehouse management functions, further erasing silos — and the potential for productivity loss — between workflows. Its integration capabilities — with machine control systems, order fulfillment technologies and labor management software — further improve business agility.
Data-driven decision intelligence
In fast-paced environments, operators can make quick decisions or strategic decisions, but not always both. Shorter cycle times, constantly shifting fulfillment priorities and limited resources create too many variables to analyze on the fly.
With the decision intelligence delivered by a WES, quick and strategic decisions are not mutually exclusive. Because it integrates system data, optimization techniques, machine-learning algorithms and artificial intelligence, a WES can account for all the factors in play at any given moment. DC operators can utilize a WES’s advanced data-driven optimization and machine-learning algorithms to make — even automate — informed decisions about order prioritization and release execution based on current and forecasted activities.
The future of e-commerce fulfillment
Does it pay off? A simulation comparing a WES with no intelligence to one that automates intelligent order sequencing found that smart order sequencing could deliver financial benefits of $1.6 million.
Simply put, the goals of increasing throughput, improving productivity and reducing errors cannot be achieved without automated warehouse execution. A WES enables operators to optimize their returns on these investments. To learn more about how a WES can equip your operations with the capabilities to meet modern fulfillment demands, read our On The Move article, “Grow Smarter.”
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