There is more than one way to skin a cat. And the fat cat at ProMat is the high-volume of small, multi-line item orders being fulfilled by today’s distribution operations. ProMat 2015 has 808 exhibitors (and 35,000 attendees), so It’s difficult to boil down such a large and diverse set of offerings to one concept, but the changing fulfillment requirements driven by e-commerce is the closest thing to it. The warehouse automation and software vendors at ProMat address these requirements from many different angles, as distinct fulfillment requirements are best addressed by different technologies and approaches. Providers are highlighting the adaptability, flexibility, and cost-effectiveness of their solutions. This is in contrast to the heightened focus that was placed on throughput in the past. Clearly efficiencies and throughput are objectives, but they are being attained through different approaches.
Warehouse Automation Equipment
Shuttle systems are a cornerstone technology for high-volume e-commerce fulfillment operations. Dematic is demonstrating its Multishuttle, Swisslog is showing its AutoStore, and Intelligrated introduced its new OLS shuttle. The OLS shuttle, like Dematic’s Multishuttle Flex, can change width to accept multiple load sizes, providing enhanced fulfillment flexibility.
Wynright, Dematic, and others are demonstrating robotics applications. Wynright is showing its new trailer loader/unloader, while Dematic is showing the application of robotics to split case picking. There is currently moderate use of robotic arms in distribution operations. However, these examples are novel applications of robotic arms in the warehouse.
There were conveyor or sortation systems displayed at many booths, but they were mostly of secondary focus. However, some vendors highlighted new approaches and alternative value propositions. For example, Intelligrated is displaying its Dynamic Discharge Compensation system that coordinates the discharge of packages from different lines to increase fulfillment accuracy. And Wynright is promoting its AutoRoll+ Greenline conveyor that only runs its motors when packages enter the zone, providing safety and energy efficiency enhancements.
Warehouse Software Systems
It looks like the Warehouse Execution Systems (WES) term is starting to catch-on. Intelligrated discussed its software offering, consisting of WMS, WCS, and other functionality, and applied the WES term to this integrated solution set. Easy integration and holistic process optimization are the primary value drivers of such a system. Dematic placed focus on its software solutions and emphasized the performance improvements that software intelligence can deliver through real-time adaptations to operational requirements such as last minute order changes.
The performance improvements enabled by software in manual operations were also emphasized. Manhattan Associates is demonstrating its new Mobile Distribution Management solution that combines information and processes from WMS and labor management. The mobile application is geared toward supervisors and includes a graphical user interface that provides real-time insights into the status of tasks, waves, and labor performance, and also allows the user to take action against tasks while on the warehouse floor. Meanhwile, HighJump is emphasizing its Retail Advantage solution that enables efficient in-store fulfillment of e-commerce orders.
In general, the conference exhibitors that provide solutions supporting e-commerce fulfillment are upbeat and many have stated or implied that their revenues are growing at double-digit rates. It appears to be a good time to be a supplier to distribution operations. As I stated in a previous post, I wish I had the foresight to invest in these companies years ago.