Last week DMG Freight Services talked about how omni-channel marketing and fulfilment has changed warehouse management systems and strategy. On a related note, the growing use of automation has had its own impact. Of course, the two trends are related. Much of the increase in automation is necessary because of the demands that omni-channel fulfilment puts on the systems.
So how are warehouse management systems improving?
For example, one way WMS vendors are responding is to better integrating traditional WMS systems with WCSs (Warehouse Control Systems) – the software used to manage and operate driverless materials handling equipment. This development has been moving slowly in recent years, but large vendors like SAP and Oracle now offer integrated materials handling interfaces to their WMS offerings, so the rest of the market is likely to follow suit, especially if these prove successful.
Are warehouse management systems expensive?
Because these materials handling bots, and the software to control them, are becoming less expensive, they is being adopted in more and more warehouses and distribution centres across the UK. Because smaller facilities are in the market for automation, suppliers are offering solutions that fit these smaller warehouses better. They are faster and less expensive to implement, and much easier to upgrade.
These smaller warehouses and DCs, though, are less amenable to removing to fully automated processes, or to making big changes all at once. This has resulted in hybrid systems where automated and manually operated equipment and processes operate side by side, or where new systems are brought in in stages while the warehouse needs to remain operating the whole time. These complex, hybrid environments have not always responded as well to management systems as simpler or more unified set ups, but the demand is still there.
What are the benefits of warehouse control systems?
Older facilities incorporating mismatched or fragmented systems have been showing interest in these new WCSs to unify and streamline their processes. These facilities have more to gain than most, as their current processes tend towards inefficiency. Instead of replacing their WMS entirely, many of these facilities are opting to upgrade their current systems and add more capability. This is another factor that favours vendors adding WCS capacity to their products, as most warehouses and DCs prefer to stick with the systems they already know, and bolt-on WCS solutions tend to cause as much inefficiency as they resolve.
Lastly, there is growing interest in WMS delivered as a cloud or SAAS platform rather than traditional ownership or licensing. Many DC managers believe that the lower initial cost and increased upgradability more than offset the higher long-term expense. If this movement materialises, it will put WCS integration and increased automation within the reach of much smaller warehouses and distribution centres.