What is a "smart" warehouse? And is it here already, or a vision of the future? Dan Gilmore, chief marketing officer of Softeon, has answers.
Aren’t “smart” warehouses already here? They may be evolving, says Gilmore, “but I’m not sure how smart they are.” While some “exciting things” are happening in warehouse technology, the industry is to a certain extent playing catchup with the manufacturing sector.
What makes a smart warehouse smart, Gilmore says, is the presence of a warehouse execution system (WES). That’s distinguished from a warehouse management system (WMS), which was designed to efficiently oversee basic tasks such as receiving, putaway, picking, packing and shipping. “You still need to do those things,” he says, “but they’re reactive in nature.” A WES, by contrast, provides proactive monitoring and control over warehouse throughput, capacity and constraints, and “is making smart decisions about how work should flow.”
A second key attribute of the WES is its ability to automate the release of work. Gilmore says that decisions at the manager level have traditionally been “very human-based,” adding latency to the process. “A human can’t do it as smart as a computer can,” he says, adding that warehouses can benefit greatly from systems that release work based on order priorities, labor availability, carrier cutoff times and optimization opportunities. “It all flows out to the floor with the need for humans.”
Artificial intelligence and machine learning will play an important future role in making warehouse operations more efficient, although they are “still in the early stages of that journey.” Meanwhile, “there are tremendous amounts of optimization with advanced algorithms and contextual rules engines that consider constraints and capacity without AI.”
For some facilities, the end vision is that of “dark” warehouses staffed entirely by robots, but for others, automation offers a means of supplementing human workers, and helping them to make better decisions.
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