Dave Williams, Vice President of Software Development, Westfalia Technologies, Inc.
Traditional warehousing operations are typically managed using either a warehouse management system (WMS), a warehouse control system (WCS) or both. The WMS is used to manage the workflow of the operation, while the WCS is used to execute the workflow by controlling the automation. When tightly integrated, they make up a warehouse execution system (WES). However, the effective use of these systems often requires complex integrations. If the systems are not properly integrated, companies risk inventory inaccuracies, misrouted products and confusing workflows—which all have an impact on the order fulfillment process.
A WES helps manufacturers and distributors direct, control and optimize material flow and order picking through a single interface. Facilities of any size would benefit from a WES to manage their internal and external processes.
The WES gives facility staff the ability to implement automation on both smaller and larger scales within the WMS’s warehouse inventory-tracking control functions. Once the facility’s staff is prepared to expand its automation initiatives, the WES helps automate repetitive tasks through ERP integration, billing or ordering systems. This level of automation increases staff efficiency and prepares the facility for future growth.
With its modular capability, the WES gives companies of any size the ability to utilize the functions they need to manage their warehousing processes. These modules could range from managing invoices and tracking inventory, to supporting full automation within the warehouse.
As the additional pieces of automation are integrated, the WCS features can be turned on within the WES, preventing the need to implement a new system. The continuous use of a WES for warehouse management tasks helps staff become more familiar with the software and its functionality. As additional automation is applied to warehouse control functions, staff can adopt new automation into the day-to-day processes, instead of needing to learn new applications.
Connecting Upstream and Downstream
The ability to easily integrate a WES with both upstream and downstream systems within the supply chain provides a significant advantage for manufacturers. This adds a level of traceability that allows manufacturers to respond to problems within the process faster, while also ensuring that they are meeting regulation standards.
This high degree of product traceability can also help manufacturers discover and react to recalls in a timelier manner. Earlier detection of recalls allows for quicker identification of affected product and full understanding of the affected products, which could significantly reduce the scope of the recall effort.
Using a WES tied into a telematics system helps manufacturers quickly and easily identify the products that need to be recalled by showing the vehicles the affected products are on; their location on the vehicle; the stops the vehicle made during transit; and what other products may have been affected. The company can utilize this information to inform their customers of the recall, so they can identify and return the recalled products quickly and efficiently. Taking fast action in the event of a recall saves both the company—and its customers’—time, money and resources.
Scaling for Size
When smaller warehouse facilities hear the word “automation,” they typically think of massive projects with huge expenses. While this can sometimes be true, automation can also start on a much smaller scale. Small-scale automation, with a WES, helps to prepare staff for future automation. It also allows them to become familiar with the system, as automation is added to the warehouse, and the WES is able to scale to provide the needed functionality to support it.
This adaptability avoids the extra time and cost of purchasing a separate WCS and the need to totally relearn applications. Using this approach allows companies to enhance their automation initiatives with minimal resistance from staff, since they only have to learn a new functionality in a program that they use every day. By adopting automation, distributors have the ability to more easily optimize internal material flow and order picking to ensure complete product traceability, staff efficiency and cost savings.
Meeting Just-in-Time Order Fulfillment
The combination of a WES and automation allows warehouses to quickly and efficiently retrieve products as they are needed. Software replaces the mundane process of staging orders, with its ability to more easily identify products that are necessary to fulfil a particular order—and to fulfil the order in a timely fashion.
The WES software plays a major role in the verification that the order is fulfilled, loaded and shipped, when coupled with an automated product identification process, such as with a barcode or RFID scanning system that has been interfaced with the WES. This advanced level of tracking allows operators to perform necessary pre-shipment activities, such as generating a bill of lading, manifests and/or other necessary paperwork with a WES. The WES also has the ability to interact with transportation systems, so carriers are able to track the loads in their systems, as well as track loading times. This helps warehouses increase their service levels with their carriers, which in turn helps to reduce detention charges and allows companies to prioritize tasks so they can fill loads more quickly.
A sophisticated WES has the potential to help an organization utilize its automation and warehouse personnel more efficiently; deliver better storage utilization; increase inventory accuracy; improve product traceability; and allow for customizations to accommodate specific customer warehousing needs. As consumer demands continue to grow, WES help manufacturers and distributors stay on top of demand and gain an edge in the increasingly competitive global marketplace. WMHS