Körber, which was known as HighJump Software until about a year ago, completed their virtual Elevate Americas user conference.
Despite the pandemic, it was a good year for the supply chain group at Körber (Körber rhymes with Gerber, the baby food company). This group had record revenues. The company had 300 new customers and 100 go lives. Many of the go lives were completed in a digital approach where no consultants went to the customer’s site.
When it comes to remote implementations, you can’t find a more inspirational story than the one presented by Lori Jackson, senior vice president of operations at ForHIMS. ForHIMS is a personal wellness startup that sells through the ecommerce channel. Ms. Jackson, and a small team, supported by the system integrator iWMS, implemented a warehouse management system (WMS) at a green field site in under 100 days during the pandemic. Lori herself got Covid early in the project, which meant initially she was not able to participate in all the Zoom calls.
The iWMS team on this project had folks from the US, South Africa, Ceylon, and India participating in team meetings and individual calls. There were calls where a ForHIMS team member might say to a consultant, “I can’t get this feature to work.” Pictures of the keystrokes were taken. The remote consultant would then say, “I see what you are doing Brendon. You are hitting F3 when you are supposed to be hitting F4.”
During the last sprint, they went into a warehouse still under construction to conduct user acceptance testing. The ForHIMS team had only six members including a pharmacist and an IT guy. This was a building without desks (they sat on packing crates), an internet connection (jet packs were used), without heat (there were still quite cool days), without plumbing (Porta Pottys). A small team was putting lables on racks and bringing product into the warheouse for a mock go live while working to maintain social distancing and proper sanitizing. And despite this, go live week was described as being a “breeze.”
This is the craziest implemenation I have every heard of, a truly increadible feat. They stood up a fully functioning ecommerce distribution center in 90 days. And they did it with a virtual team. Ms. Jackson praised the Supply Chain Advantage solution as being adaptable, reliable, and scalable. She had praise for the supportiveness of Körber and very high praise for their integration partner iWMS.
Körber’s ability to support ecommerce warehouses also emerged as something of a theme from the sessions I watched. Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) that support each picking are increasingly implemented in ecommerce warehouses. I did a study on the WMS system integrator market last year. Körber has done more AMR implementations than any other integrator.
Michiel Vienman, Körber’s vice president of industry solutions, gave a very interesting presentation on the strengths and weaknesses of various AMR solutions. It was surprising to me that the newest generation of assisted picking AMRs had lower pick rates than an older generation of goods to man robots whose navigation technology is not nearly as advanced. The old generation AMR solution also supported better storage density.
Körber also had sessions on their warehouse simulation and design tool that can be used to compare the throughput and cost savings that can be achieved with manual processes vs. traditional automation vs. autonomous mobile robots (AMRs). Körber is enhancing the ability of this solution to model the increasingly wide variety of AMR solutions that are available in the market.
Another ecommerce customer that spoke at the conference was Yotam Ben Ari, a manger of ecommerce initiatives at the Gold Bond Group. The Gold Bond Group is an Israeli logistics service provider. The Gold Bond Group stood up a new warehouse in Ashdod Israel focused solely on providing ecommerce services for their customers. The warehouse receives goods from the port and uses warehousing processes and goods-to-person robots to deliver goods right to a consumer’s door.
What struck me was the complexity of the processes the WMS solution for Körber was supporting. WMS solutions have been around since the 1970s. The Kiva style AMR first emerged in about 2005. It is natural to think of robots, the newer technology, as being a more complex technology than WMS. But as Mr. Ari walked through all the numerous, intricate steps the WMS enforces associated with receiving, put-away, picking and shipping; as he talked about the integration to AMRs, conveyor, an in-line sorter, and other applications to the WMS; and the development of custom views; well I could not help but conclude the decades of development behind a WMS makes it a far more sophisticated piece of technology than a goods-to-man robot.
Ecommerce warehouses require a flexible solution. Many of Körber’s customers will tell you that the Warehouse Advantage solution has a high degree of adaptability and that is one of the key reasons they selected the solution. Körber is trying to make the solution even more flexible by embedding new Cloud native technologies in the solution. But their goal is to achieve this flexibility without stranding customers on a burning platform. In other words, customers can get improved flexibility through upgrades rather than doing a brand-new implementation.