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A System is Only as Smart as its Software

Contributed by : MHI

No matter the design, proper software implementation alongside warehouse automation is crucial to maintaining a competitive advantage and strategic operations. Image courtesy of Westfalia.

ASRS comes in many forms – vertical/horizontal carousels, fixed-aisle, single- or double-deep pallet racking or multiple-deep solutions. Identifying the right technology for a warehouse comes down to multiple factors including available space, number of SKUs and operating and maintenance budget. This design is critical to meeting the needs of warehouses across industries, but a system is only as smart as the software that controls it.

No matter the design, proper software implementation alongside warehouse automation is crucial to maintaining a competitive advantage and strategic operations. Combining warehouse control system (WCS) and warehouse management system (WMS) functionality, warehouse execution systems (WES) manage both the warehouse inventory as well as movement of the products throughout the warehouse. Pairing an ASRS with the right WES is essential to the overall functionality of the system, providing several key benefits including:

  • Optimized workforce: Manual, repetitive tasks are eliminated with automation, so workers can spend more time optimizing quality control and safety.
  • Increased traceability: Real-time product visibility to track product movement and monitor production and inventory levels across the entire network.
  • Improved accuracy: Costly mistakes are avoided by reducing unexpected stock-outs, backorders and other fulfillment errors. In addition, with automated data collection, inventory or equipment information is no longer delayed or inaccurate.

Whether using a WMS, WES or WCS, the design of an automated system should always originate from a data-centric approach to ensure flexibility, reliability and long-term success. Designing a system encompassing both inventory and process data is the first step in mitigating risk. By using data to identify specific pain points for a company and its industry, the warehouse can be designed to accommodate key challenges such as seasonal demand, a lean workforce or product specifications.

A WES is also a critical piece in long-term data collection. ASRS software collects critical information during warehouse operation, examples include:

  • The rotation of pallets within the warehouse
  • SKU volume
  • Downtime and maintenance needs
  • Product movement from dock to pallet to aisle

The data analysis from inventory and order fulfillment is transformed into forecasting and 3D network planning models. Development platforms, like Unity, are available to create in-depth analyses in an easily digestible format to help predict trends and areas of inefficiency. Providing the right data before design and during operations is critical to an intelligent, agile and flexible system that can accurately handle products, regardless of SKU volume and level of throughput. With the right system design and software to support it, warehouses can optimize space, manage costs and prepare for future disruptions.

Choosing the right Technology

By using data to identify specific pain points for a company and its industry, the warehouse can be designed to accommodate key challenges such as seasonal demand, a lean workforce or product specifications. Image courtesy of Hänel Storage Systems.

ASRS technology such as vertical lift modules (VLMs) and vertical/horizontal carousels typically utilize a style of WMS that allows smooth interaction not only with controllers on the automated storage units themselves, but also with other types of solutions such as rack and pallet storage.

This software is often built around three main points: functionality, intuitive user guidance and price-performance ratio. The result is an optimized warehouse management platform. When the software is platform-independent with web applications for all kinds of different clients, often with additional modules to meet the specific needs of every customer, then the overall system can also interface seamlessly with a broad range of ERP and WMS systems.

An intuitive graphic interface quickly maps scenarios involving ASRS systems, shelf storage, racks, pallet bays and other warehouse locations. A three-dimensional shelf overview even shows the current situation on every storage level. All storage data can be viewed and managed just about anywhere – at the storage system, on a workplace PC or on terminals and tablets.

This system applies inventory management best practices, enabling users to avoid expired items and dead stock while saving money. Tracking can be done by:

  • First-in/first-out (FIFO) ensures that the oldest inventory items are used or sold first
  • Shelf life and expiration date parameters prevent unnecessary spoilage
  • Par levels to determine the minimum amount of inventory items that must be on hand at all times
  • Lot numbers or serial numbers to allow products to be traced accordingly throughout their useful lifespans.

ASRS software can be utilized for these methods and more.

Vertical storage lifts can also interface directly with customer ERP software. Some manufacturers’ control systems support data exchange without the need for additional middleware. An FTP server, network share or web service interface is all that is required for data exchange between the controller and the customer’s ERP system.

The latest generations of controllers also double as a terminal for a wide range of ERP systems using an embedded web browser and web service, which allows for SOAP-based data exchange and a display mechanism, eliminating the need for an external computer. This prevents synchronization problems, such as those stemming from redundant data storage. This also allows for customized interfaces to be displayed directly on the controller, rather than having to utilize external PCs. ERP systems can display their data directly on the controller.

Input data is booked in the ERP system in real time, and then the storage system is actuated. The booking is executed directly in the ERP server, with no data buffering or data conversion in the control system. This means that the storage overview and inventory status control are always updated, regardless of the client used.

There are many available options for software integration for ASRS – Check with your ASRS manufacturer to find out which ones will be right for your solution. For managing various types of automated vertical storage systems, in conjunction with conventional warehouse solutions, WMS software is the perfect inventory management tool for meeting the challenges of the future. WMHS

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