Scalable Warehouse Execution System Software Adapts to Diverse Needs
March 17, 2021
Credit COVID-19 for having a significant impact on retailers’ order management, fulfillment and distribution processes. Recent research from Modern Materials Handling found that more than 40% of operations report challenges with labor. Further, more than 30% are facing increased customer expectations for faster delivery, higher volumes of e-commerce orders, and the need to fill more orders faster and at lower costs.
As many distribution centers (DCs) have learned over the last 12 months, it’s no longer enough to simply have product in stock and ready for fulfillment, or have a warehouse management system (WMS) that pre-plans a rigid work schedule. Instead, to thrive in today’s environment, operations need solutions that help them to meet customer expectations as efficiently — and at the lowest costs — possible. Whether a warehouse is leveraging light-directed picking to carts, integrating more complex goods-to-person (GTP) workflows, or adding automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS) and autonomous mobile robot (AMR) technologies, an advanced warehouse execution system (WES) can help to address those challenges.
Many operations don’t realize that WES software is scalable, allowing it to adapt to a DC’s unique set of equipment, processes and needs. A WES acts as the brains of an operation, fully orchestrating all end-to-end DC activities by breaking down silos and pulling input from every area and process to keep fulfillment activities flowing. It considers labor availability to optimize staffing levels, coordinates and maximizes automation utilization, and makes decisions in real time to increase throughput and meet service level agreements (SLAs).
In our most recent On The Move webinar, I described how a WES can be scaled to improve an operation’s labor challenges, picking and handling processes, and order cycle times across different levels of technological investments.
Adapting a WES to diverse needs, technologies
The benefits of a WES can be leveraged regardless of the type of technology used in a DC. That’s because the system releases work to the floor based on SLAs, while simultaneously ensuring the most efficient pick batches and paths are created. With the WES orchestrating the entire fulfillment flow, operators are always working on the next best task — instead of tackling pick waves pre-planned hours beforehand by a traditional WMS.
In a light-directed order fulfillment application (either pick-to-light [PTL] item selection or put-to-light sortation of batch picks), utilizing a WES to release the orders ensures that picks (or puts) are sequenced via prioritization. The lights ensure accuracy while increasing the operator’s productivity. Further, when integrating conveyors into this process to route totes or containers throughout the facility, the WES will direct and re-direct picking tasks and orders across zones and staffers to balance workloads and prevent bottlenecks.
With nearly 70% of retailers reporting they can’t find enough labor, or that their labor is unreliable, leveraging a WES in conjunction with an AS/RS and/or GTP system can translate into significant cost and time savings, improved risk management, and a more streamlined end-to-end supply chain. These solutions can be applied to multiple workflows:
- Case buffer and storage systems where full cases are stored and shipped to retail stores
- GTP picking stations where totes of individual items are delivered to operators for e-commerce fulfillment
- Decanting stations where workers place inventory into totes that are retrieved and stored in the AS/RS
Based on the WES continuously assessing order prioritization in real time, the software tells the AS/RS which totes of product or cases to retrieve and where to route them downstream — to palletizers, shipping lanes or GTP stations — while balancing the workload across multiple operators.
Finally, a WES can be integrated with AMRs to coordinate long-haul, variable movement previously handled by forklifts or operators pushing carts on foot. To accommodate different SLAs, the WES flexibly activates and directs each AMR’s movement and task assignment in real time, optimizing labor and improving safety on the warehouse floor.
To learn more about how a WES can adapt to your facility’s unique processes and equipment to address your operation’s biggest labor, service and throughput challenges, please view this webinar.
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