In the warehousing industry, it’s all about handling more products and doing it faster. Automation tools, including palletizers and picking systems, are a great way to stay on top of these demands.
Why automation? It’s the obvious go-to solution for the proliferation of SKUs. And, it also addresses the need for faster shipment turnaround, which ultimately keeps the end customer satisfied. Automation also maintains order accuracy—an important aspect for safety (particularly with food and beverage products) and controlling costs.
Although automation is a crucial tool for meeting various demands, it can be further improved when paired with software solutions such as a warehouse management system (WMS) or a warehouse control system (WCS). These software solutions work in tandem with automation to keep track of products inside the warehouse, which in turn enhances a warehouse manager’s visibility of the overall operations.
Benefits of integration
There are plenty of good reasons to integrate a WMS or a WCS system with automation. One of the biggest benefits is having the ability to see where your products are at all times in the warehouse. A warehouse control system, which is essentially the central control system for the entire warehouse, can give a food or beverage company real-time communication with their automation equipment and more.
“A warehouse control system has visibility into everything,” says Greg Cronin, executive vice president of Mason, Ohio-based Intelligrated. “That visibility can be provided to the supervisors and management so they can better balance a facility and know where to put their resources.”
A WCS system also allows users to view multiple facilities at once and in real time. This makes it easier for warehouse managers to react quickly to a situation that materializes at any one of his facilities.
User-friendly WCS solutions make it easier for warehouse managers to manage complex automation systems. Having the ability to see where products are at all times makes it possible for warehouse managers to provide the best routing options for products, which boosts efficiency in the warehouse. Warehouse control systems are often integrated with warehouse management systems to facilitate data exchange and further enhance control of the facility.
Warehouse management systems can help a food or beverage company efficiently automate their reordering process, among other things.
“What you want is your ‘first in, first out’ [method] so that your shelf life is preserved,” says Steven Hawkins, director of automation for Jacksonville, Florida-based Stellar, a global engineering firm with many projects in the food and beverage industry. “You can track this through the entire process.”
Similar to WCS systems, WMS systems also provide enhanced visibility inside the warehouse. A warehouse management system facilitates and manages the warehouse workflow of function such as picking and packing. Warehouse management systems also provide management with better inventory accuracy.
In order to monitor the activities in the warehouse, WMS systems often use technologies such as Auto ID Data Capture (AIDC) and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID). These technologies collect data on the food or beverage products in the facility and sends it to a computer system. RFID technologies are used to track and trace specific products or shipments.
When the WMS is integrated with automation, a warehouse manager gains full control into how the automation equipment is performing.
“The warehouse management system gives you entire visibility to what’s happening in the warehouse,” says Chad Collins, chief marketing officer of Colorado Springs, Colorado-based Accellos. Although integration between automation and software solutions like WCS and WMS clearly offer benefits to a company, there are also some challenges as well.