Maximizing Man and Machine In The Modern Warehouse

modern warehouseThe impact of digital transformation and connected commerce are resounding across industries. Forward-thinking companies around the world are challenging themselves to serve more customers, more quickly, more directly and more personally. In other words, omnichannel distribution projects aren’t just for retailers anymore, and warehouse technologies need to keep up.

Supply chain leaders have noted the benefits other businesses have gained and are taking action. It’s no longer acceptable to operate channels with segregated warehouse space, duplicative inventories, excess labor, and redundant automation. All of these assets are expensive and to improve throughput, profitability and customer satisfaction, maximum utilization is critical. There needs to be continuous optimization and orchestration of order fulfillment activities across all assets and all channels. That’s why cutting-edge WMS now features an embedded Warehouse Execution System (WES) and powerful, new Order Streaming capabilities.

Tasked with handling more SKUs, greater numbers of smaller, more frequent orders, across more channels – all with shorter processing times – distribution centers are under constant pressure. Rising demand for human labor and resulting labor shortages are driving many shippers to investigate advanced automation and robotics. The appeal is obvious. Automation is not impacted by regional workforce capacity, and robots do not get fatigued or sick.

DC robotics are getting more efficient, more sophisticated and faster than ever before, with innovations coming from vendors around the world. The challenge is that different types of automation do not naturally communicate and are often not aware of each other. Getting maximum throughput within the distribution center requires orchestrating assets to work together – advanced automation and people.

Until now, as fulfillment leaders introduced automation, they were forced to work with various systems: a warehouse management system (WMS) and a warehouse execution system (WES) or warehouse control system (WCS). Historically, the WMS was the single place to recognize supply and demand, optimize and allocate work – because it understood orders, capacity, and inventory. However, legacy WMS solutions were never designed to manage the capacity of advanced automation and robotics continuously.

Independent WES systems were developed more recently to pick up the slack and manage more real-time work tasking, prioritization, and optimization. However, WES technology does not inherently understand order demand across all channels, or all inventory positions and availability. So it was still dependent on the WMS for bulk processing of orders and batch release of work. As a result, these types of WES implementations often resulted in higher customer TCO due to the integration requirements. The systems and resources were siloed, lacking orchestration across asset classes. Fulfillment organizations had to work harder to ensure inventories were not duplicated, and resources were maximized.

Those issues can be solved with a WES module built inside the WMS. Eliminating siloed integration challenges, this new solution ushers in a comprehensive, coordinated approach that gives you complete command and control of the modern warehouse. Seamlessly integrated, it has been engineered from the ground up to work with any type of automation. Robotics providers can simply plug into the new WES ecosystem, meaning automation initiatives are up and running faster than ever before.

While technology in the warehouse is exploding, it is important to remember that more human capital is being used than ever before. With the WES inside the WMS, it is now possible to orchestrate workflows across both man and machine. Companies can now get the best of both: the power of repeatable and predictable processes along with the ability to pivot and think innovatively.

Order Streaming, a sophisticated approach to order fulfillment, helps customers operate with increased speed and flexibility by shattering the boundaries between wave and waveless fulfillment. It empowers warehouses to use multiple processes to fulfill orders with optimal efficiency.

The advantages of the wave approach are well-known and well-documented. While many types of orders and operations are best served by batch wave processing, development of a waveless approach has been necessary to respond to growing omnichannel fulfillment promises. Waveless manages every order as a discrete allocation of work enabling fast, responsive fulfillment for smaller, more urgent orders. It is ideal for direct-to-consumer order fulfillment.

As a warehouse fulfills orders, the modern WMS leverages machine learning to optimize operations. Over time, Order Streaming can finetune the expectation of how long a task will require, given the combination of historical data and numerous other conditions. As task completion patterns are learned, Order Streaming adjusts to dispense precisely the right amount of work to the most appropriate resource. The more the technology listens and learns, the more optimized your distribution center becomes.

More than ever, warehouse management must be approached with a holistic perspective that considers any combination of human and automation together. Coordination and collaboration across discrete pieces of advanced automation – as well as the human workforce – only gets more powerful when those systems are integrated. The combination of an embedded WES and Order Streaming capabilities makes today’s advanced WMS one that enables total visibility across the distribution center, complete flexibility for automation growth, and maximum utilization of all resources.

Eric Lamphier joined Manhattan Associates in July 1997 and has served as senior director of product management since March 2007. In this role, he is responsible for setting the future direction and strategy for the industry-leading Warehouse Management product. Eric has been responsible for numerous product releases, including new market offerings, cross-application integration, industry-specific feature/function advancements, technology and architecture modernization and integration with complementary partner solutions.

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