By John Paxton, MHI COO/CEO Designate
It’s no secret that the ongoing labor shortage and consumers’ desire for ever-shorter delivery times have combined to pose an unprecedented challenge for supply chains. The good news is that with autonomous mobile robots, automated storage and retrieval systems, mobile sorters, palletizers and other automated solutions, warehouses and distribution centers have added some powerful new tools to their arsenal.
To get the most out of your automated equipment, it has to work as a team and in concert with your employees, and that’s where rapidly advancing software technology comes into play.
Ed Romaine, vice president of marketing and business development for MHI member Conveyco Technologies, said newer warehouse execution systems (WES) represent a big step up from traditional warehouse management systems (WMS) because they take a holistic view of operations.
“The software is the glue that truly optimizes everything,” Romaine said. “The benefit that a WES provides is the ability to orchestrate all fulfillment activities and operations within the building’s four walls to optimize the entire performance, whereas a WMS is going to focus on individual zones. The WES is seamlessly blurring the lines between human and machine, optimizing a facility’s operations.
With a WES, warehouses and distribution centers can utilize the emulation features to run simulations and gauge the impact of big changes to their operations, such as a new inventory profile, a sharp spike in consumer demand or a large increase in the number of SKUs. If, for example, a fulfillment center averages 40,000 orders a day but expects that figure to rise to 60,000 in a few years, it can adjust the parameters in the WES and put its operations to the test. With emulation, WES software can be pushed to and beyond the physical limits your system was designed for.
“You want to know what your system is capable of, and this allows you to do that and to see what the next steps should be,” Romaine said. “You can see what fails first, what needs to be fixed, or moved or tweaked—or maybe not. This lets you see how far you can go. There are now WES packages that have this simulation functionality built in, so it will help not only in your system performance but in your planning.”