There are some challenges that should be understood when integrating automation equipment and warehouse software. For one, automation tends to make a warehouse more static, which can be a challenge if products are constantly changing.
“We see a lot of customers who have a lot of changes in their distribution centers,” says Collins. “Although they could get some benefits from automation, they stay away from it because it really limits their flexibility.”
In order for a food or beverage company to fully benefit from automation, the facility and operations need to be properly and fully evaluated beforehand. Although automation equipment may make a warehouse more static, the advantages of using automation, e.g. improving performance, can certainly outweigh the downsides.
There are other challenges with integrating automation and software, too. Since most warehouse management systems are designed for a particular purpose, it also has to correspond with the automation from a comprehensive integration standpoint. A food or beverage company should review various software options in order to choose the best solution that complements the company’s automation equipment.
Meanwhile, another potential barrier is the upfront cost of the automation equipment, which can be pricey. Although automation equipment can sometimes present a financial stretch for some companies, the financial benefits are substantial, starting with managing labor costs, training, and other personnel issues.
Equipment breakdowns, while infrequent if maintained properly, can be devastating to a company’s operations, especially in a just-in-time environment.
“It can bottleneck if it goes down, so a good portion of your operations are stalled until you get that fixed,” says Chuck Fuerst, direct of product strategy for Minneapolis, Minnesota-based HighJump. However, “You can have downtime with any of your existing labor forces as well.”
With a number of options to choose from, which warehousing management system is right for your operations?
According to Accellos’ Collins, “We’re really unique in that we focus on small to midsize businesses.” The company’s WMS solution—AccellosOne WMS—is specifically designed for companies with less volume and complexities in the warehouse. AccellosOne WMS, which manages data such as order accuracy and shipping accuracy, is able to remain up and running with minimal IT resources.
RedPrairie’s on-demand warehouse management system, like that offered by Accellos, is also geared towards small- to medium-sized businesses, but can also work well with larger businesses with more complex needs. The on-demand solution provides visibility for warehouse inventory and also helps to ensure food safety and quality control.
Giving the customer the ability to customize their solution is key to HighJump, and their solution does just that. HighJump’s solution is also offered in 9 languages that include: Czech, Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, simplified Chinese, and Spanish.
Finally, Intelligrated’s WCS system allows customers to drive operations at a faster pace. Their WCS system provides an easy to understand user interface on their Route Manager system and offers intelligent routing options to increase overall efficiency.
As the software market continues to mature, software companies are looking to find ways to refine and improve their warehouse solutions. Enhancements in technologies such as RFID, bar-coding and other sensor technologies are happening concurrently.
“The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and product traceability initiatives require us to track data at a very granular level,” says Tom Kozenski, vice president, product strategy, at RedPrairie. “That creates new needs for the market.”
According to industry experts, RFID and sensor technologies will be placed on products in order to let companies know the exact status and location of each product. These technologies can give important information to companies, such as the temperature of a product and when that product is set to expire, which is important for tracking and traceability initiatives.