Which WMS to choose for automated warehouse management?

The warehouse management system (WMS) plays a key role in logistics operation planning, execution, and monitoring. In automated warehouses, where it coordinates tasks allocated to robots, mechanized systems, and operators, it needs to be able to communicate—in real time—with other systems such as the warehouse control system (WCS) and the warehouse execution system (WES). If you are in the market for a WMS system that can manage logistics processes in mechanized or automated warehouses, what key features should you look for?

Interoperability with mechanized systems and robots

Warehouse management software should be capable of seamlessly interfacing with the warehouse’s various robots and mechanized systems, so it can coordinate—in real time—the various logistics operations allocated to machines and operators: incoming goods, storage, moving products within the warehouse, order picking, packing, transporting pallets or parcels to loading docks, conducting inventories, and more.

For this to be possible, the warehouse management system needs to include standard connectors (APIs, data streaming, etc.) to facilitate integration and direct communication with automated systems, as well as with the WCS or the WES, where these systems are tasked with real-time coordination and optimization of tasks and resources.

Ability to delegate certain processes

In an automated warehouse, the WMS system must be capable of easily delegating processes to the WCS, the WES, or another system. This can be done in one of two ways:

  • Black box: the mechanized system or robot receives orders from the WMS (such as managing storage locations, moving products, or picking orders), but continues to execute them autonomously. For instance, the warehouse management system decides on the storage zone for a particular product, but the WCS instructs the robot to move the item and selects the ultimate location within the zone determined by the WMS. To take another example, the WMS instructs the WES or the WCS to pick an order. The latter system then selects the most appropriate goods and handling units from the stock under its management, taking traceability information into account.
  • White box: in this case, the mechanized system or robot is treated in the same way as an operator and given more directive instructions. Locations and stock are managed by the WMS system, which indicates the exact storage locations and, for an order-picking task, the goods that need to be picked.

In either case, although the WMS retains ultimate control over all logistics operations within the warehouse, it is important to have clearly established roles and responsibilities for each individual system, especially given the overlapping features of WMS, WCS, and WES systems.

Real-time orchestration of robots and operators

In a warehouse, the WMS is also responsible for planning and allocating resources (machines and operators), taking into account order-processing priority and operational constraints (such as equipment availability, transport cut-off, and stock locations and moves).

To do so, the warehouse management system needs to be able to monitor logistics operations in real time, so that it can reallocate tasks if a problem arises—such as a change in order-processing priority to adhere to lead times, delays in order picking, a bottleneck in a particular workflow, or equipment faults.

Automated warehouses: why a flexible, scalable WMS is important

In mechanized or automated warehouses, the warehouse management system needs to be flexible and scalable enough to efficiently adapt to fluctuations in activity and to integrate the latest technologies. A cloud-based WMS caters to these needs particularly well. These types of warehouse management software are designed to adapt to growing business volumes without any loss of performance. Resources (such as computing power and storage space) can be adjusted dynamically as needs evolve. They also come with APIs for easier integration with new equipment and technologies.

Logistics KPIs and continuous optimization of automated warehouses

Last but not least, in an automated warehouse—just as at a “conventional” logistics site—the WMS software must be capable of providing key performance indicators and suggesting areas for continuous improvement. This information can then be used to optimize the layout of the warehouse, to review the distribution of work processes between machines and operators, to ensure equipment is used more efficiently, and more.

 

Our Reflex WMS software comes with all the features needed to manage automated warehouses. The system is used in a number of mechanized and automated warehouses, such as those operated by La Redoute, bioMérieux (Exotec), 4murs (AutoStore), and bol.com.