The growth in omnichannel retailing is a primary driver of increased automation in the warehouse, says Cronin, whose company provides automated material handling solutions. Instead of moving mostly pallets and cases, omnichannel requires companies to do a lot more “each” picking and to quickly move these smaller orders out the door, he says. “Everyone wants everything to go faster, so the speed of conveyors and of other types of automation has increased dramatically, to the point where it is hard for people to keep up,” he says.
This means more automation is needed to monitor the automation. “You need a brain to look into the automation and see how it is performing, and to adapt to what is going on,” says Cronin. “Say a conveyor line breaks down or a priority order comes across. You need artificial intelligence inside the software that can adapt to changing conditions and adjust work flows so that both the equipment and labor work smoothly and productively.”
This is leading to the intersection and integration of warehouse control systems and warehouse management systems, says Morris of Knighted, an Intelligrated subsidiary. “If you look at the market today, there is a real separation between software to control warehouse automation and warehouse management systems. Retailers have to figure out how to use these applications together, so we are trying to integrate these products in a way that allows managers to make decisions that move product through a facility in the most efficient and cost effective manner.”
Morris says the warehouse industry is at an inflection point where a lot of things are coming together to make it simpler to execute. “It started with commercial WMS and now we are seeing the advent of commercial fulfillment execution, where we are bringing things together to deliver goods in ways that retailers could not have dreamt of 10 years ago,” he says.
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