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Today, orders are smaller, order-to-delivery cycles are shorter, and distribution centers are busier. As a result, they require highly dynamic, real-time workflows. DC leaders are investing in automation to help them make the transformation to “wave-less” or “order-streaming” — where workflow is planned as orders are received.
As a warehouse changes the underlying mechanisms by which it operates, it must also change the software that orchestrates it. In other words, in highly automated environments, the underlying systems that run a DC — especially the software that powers it — must be tailored to optimize the workflow of humans and machines.
Historically, the warehouse management system (WMS) has been responsible for planning and executing the work at DCs, up to the point of managing the material handling system. However, the WMS is not the ideal system to work in conjunction with automation. The WMS may have a clear picture of workflow and inventory, but it does not have a real-time view of what’s happening in the building.
By contrast, the WES has real-time visibility into everything happening in the DC and can pull planning and execution together into an integrated solution. As a result, the WES is becoming the central nervous system for the DC, providing business leaders with a tool that can dramatically improve workflow optimization and balance resources. In this way, the WES acts as an “efficiency engine” — balancing the peaks and valleys of the integrated process to keep the DC flow steady — while increasing speed and output, too.
The software’s modular design also means that as certain technologies become obsolete, the WES can replace unsupported solutions in favor of more modern ones. While the WMS and WCS are unlikely to disappear completely, the WES will continue to grow in capabilities and importance to the supply chain thanks to its flexibility and agility to adapt to new technologies, systems, suppliers and environments.
Traditional software for distribution management can’t meet the needs of modern DCs, and business leaders must invest in WES to gain the full benefits of warehouse automation. Companies will need to elevate the role of the WES in conjunction with other technology solutions, which ultimately will lead to more efficient, optimized and profitable operations.
Will King is group vice president at Fortna.
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