7 Ways a WES Addresses Modern Fulfillment Complexities
For distribution centers (DCs), the continued acceleration of e-commerce and its varying service level agreements (SLAs) are pushing them beyond their capabilities. The days of sequentially releasing fixed waves of orders are quickly coming to an end. To succeed in this environment, distribution and fulfillment (D&F) operations must continually evaluate order priorities and release them to the floor accordingly. This influx and variety of orders also increase fulfillment complexities exponentially — and in the process, outpace manual fulfillment strategies.
In a recent On The Move webinar, Smart Warehouse Software: A Solution to Every Situation, Suzanne McGough, Honeywell Intelligrated’s software offering manager and I explained how modern warehouse execution systems (WES) and advanced automation software can enable a much more dynamic, responsive approach to order fulfillment. As we discussed in the webinar, this new approach must respond to the challenges and market trends facing the D&F sector today, including:
- Relentless speed and growth — The unrelenting pace of e-commerce is creating a chasm between traditional fulfillment models and those successfully embracing new technologies and strategies.
- Labor — Labor remains among the most costly and persistent challenges facing DC operators, who must find, train, retain, replace and effectively manage their resources.
- Connectivity — The internet of things (IoT) enables remote monitoring and control of assets while contributing to a data stream that can be leveraged to give operators real-time, end-to-end DC visibility and insights.
- Urbanization — Population concentrations in urban centers are driving retailers to develop order fulfillment strategies that bring them closer to their customers.
With these trends in mind, let’s look at some of the ways that a WES can help to address modern fulfillment complexities.
- Align order release with customer priorities. Orders can be configured to be prioritized and released based on your unique customer SLAs. Orders are ranked according to priority and released in a continuous fashion based on downstream availability.
- Predict order processing time more accurately. In real time, machine-learning algorithms consider order priorities, shipping windows and the availability of labor and automation to determine the workload on the entire fulfillment system — and the time it will take to complete orders of varying priorities.
- Maximize labor utilization. With a clearer picture of available resources and demand, DC operators can avoid the inefficiencies (and potential costs) of over- and under-staffing. Supervisors can make staffing decisions based on demand, reallocate resources at any given moment, and seamlessly integrate labor with robotics/automation workflows.
- Gain visibility to orders in progress. As order priorities change and DC workloads fluctuate, DC managers have real-time visibility of the location and progress of orders and their impacts to inventory levels. Leverage data for business insights. Powerful analytics capabilities give DC managers a wealth of information to steer their business, such as: inferring potential customer behavior changes; successfully expanding operations; improving risk management; achieving shorter cycle times; and meeting increased customer demands.
- Leverage data for business insights. Powerful analytics capabilities give DC managers a wealth of information to steer their business, such as: inferring potential customer behavior changes; successfully expanding operations; improving risk management; achieving shorter cycle times; and meeting increased customer demands.
- Adopt micro-fulfillment center (MFC) strategies. In addition to large DC footprints, a WES can apply to MFCs — in retail stores, dark warehouses or stand-alone, smaller facilities. A WES coordinates the timing and routing of totes between automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS) shuttles and goods-to-person (GTP) stations and determines proper order release timing.
- Prepare for future business changes. While it’s impossible to predict market changes and their impacts, it is possible to leverage a stable, flexible WES software platform that’s built to scale and adapt to whatever the future may hold for your business.
To learn more about how a WES can help you address modern retail challenges and lay a foundation for future success, view this Smart Warehouse Software: A Solution to Every Situation webinar.