Magazine Article | September 1, 2002

Automation Or Bust

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

So, what's your company's excuse for not moving forward with warehouse automation?

Integrated Solutions, September 2002

Futurists of the past had to imagine that by 2002 practically every aspect of our lives would be run by machines. Well, that's clearly not the case, even in plant operations. However, being able to run an entire warehouse from one location does sound like a good idea.

Previously, implementing a WMS (warehouse management system) meant massive supply chain overhauls that could make the most innovative companies squirm. Today, WMS suppliers are designing their systems to be flexible and scale incrementally to handle continuous growth.

Since vendors cannot predict their customers' growth, WMS providers must create systems that are flexible enough to meet changing business requirements. Customers are searching for custom configurations and adaptability when they shop for WMSs. Solutions need to solve the problems of today and handle challenges of the future. Today's WMSs have the ability to efficiently upgrade at a moment's notice. With earlier systems, customers often replaced their WMSs rather than tackle upgrades.

Automation Improves Service
WMS software has never been better at solving the challenges of managing inventory and orders. Despite this, the WMS sector is still an under-penetrated market. Surprisingly, few companies actually have a real WMS in place. Most businesses are using homegrown systems or generic inventory modules found in large ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems. Today, most of these businesses are finding that these systems simply don't meet the requirements of today's order fulfillment challenges. Consider several of the advantages of a properly designed WMS:

  • Complete integration with automated material handling equipment, such as AS/RS (automated storage and retrieval system), conveyors, and palletizers
  • Paperless inventory tracking and order selection using technologies such as RF (radio frequency) equipment, pick-to-light systems, and pick-to-voice systems
  • Rapid development leading to reduced cost for customization
  • Simple connectivity to multiple sites and existing software/networks leading to more streamlined integration of corporate data
  • Availability of real-time information via Web-based technology

These overall benefits are most effective when the software is implemented with a fresh code base. To unleash the true potential of WMSs, greater investments in automation, such as AS/RS, are necessary. This combination will result in the highest customer service levels with the lowest long-term cost structure.