Banish Automation Silos With a Warehouse Execution System
To stay ahead of growing e-commerce demands while compensating for the difficulties of finding and retaining qualified workers, more distribution centers (DCs) today are investing in automated warehouse solutions in order to meet customer SLAs and reduce overall operating costs. However, most retailers already have a network of DCs consisting of various equipment, controls and software that was leveraged to perform certain processes for the distribution tasks of the past. With the need to revitalize current DC networks to compete with the Amazons of the world, retailers are dealing with the headache of integrating new technologies with existing warehouse automation equipment and management software, which isn’t an easy task — especially when the systems are sourced from different suppliers and equipped with different control systems.
This disparity creates automation silos (also referred to as islands of automation) that frequently don’t communicate with each other to create a unified, synchronized order fulfillment system. That’s where warehouse execution systems (WES) come into play: unlike individual automation software to control one specific process in the DC, a WES takes a holistic approach gathering inputs from all of a facility’s unrelated software, material handling equipment and automation technologies to banish the silos and orchestrate fulfillment workflows.
DC supervisors are faced with multiple areas to monitor. Their plans revolve among checking inventory levels in their warehouse management system (WMS), monitoring conveyor jams in their warehouse control systems (WCS), or gauging labor productivity in their labor management system (LMS), all in a collective effort to ease losing critical on-the-floor time and playing catch-up at their desks. The integration of a WES provides visibility into all of these areas within one viewpoint which enables flexible, real-time orchestration of order fulfillment functions, including: inbound and outbound product flow; inventory management; order management; and order release. The WES is able to keep the supervisor updated on general health of the DC and the order fulfillment process without needing heavy involvement to ensure a successful shift.
Indeed, WES has rapidly evolved to fill the gaps left by the WMS, WCS and LMS; namely, the latter’s collective inability to provide the automation synchronization necessary to match order demands with labor availability and resource allocation. Recent advancements have further empowered WES to provide integrated, machine-level control in cutting-edge warehouse automation, such as: automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS) shuttles and cranes; robotic picking; and automatic palletizing and depalletizing technology.
What truly sets today’s WES — such as Momentum™ WES from Honeywell Intelligrated — apart from its predecessors is its capability to apply intelligence to business processes and workflows. For e-commerce operations — where fulfillment priorities shift continuously — this means a WES enables dynamic, real-time decision making for order prioritization and release execution. It does this through sophisticated, data science enabled algorithms that achieve smarter workflows and resource allocation based on available capacity in downstream areas such as picking zones or order consolidation processes like put walls or unit sortation.
Simply put, today’s WES integrates key automation systems within the four walls of the DC to provide unprecedented throughput and productivity gains. As e-commerce retailers increasingly implement more automation, a WES will become necessary in order to reap the maximum benefits from those investments. Additional information about how WES has evolved to enable greater degrees of automation, deliver higher throughput rates, and provide the flexibility to deal with dynamic fulfillment challenges is detailed in our On The Move article, The Evolution of Warehouse Execution.