22/04/2020 | Jérôme Pedreno, Business Development and Pauline Poissonnier, Business Solutions Manager, Hardis Group
Earlier this year, we announced the release of a module called WCS Master. The aim of this module is to work better with mechanized systems, without encroaching on the WCS layer, which, we believe, must remain the job of the company manufacturing the systems.
Why have we adopted this approach?
Why have we adopted this approach, contrasting with that of many of our colleagues, who often talk about WES and tend to want to take control of this layer?
Mainly for two reasons:
- First, we believe that the manufacturer of a mechanized system will always be in the best position to have a WCS that can get the best out of it;
- The second is that if there is a problem, if a WCS editor who is not the mechanized system manufacturer starts squabbling with the latter over who is responsible for what, while a sorter is ejecting hundreds of cartons any old how, the quality of service for the client will be lacking. You need a single person in charge of the whole mechanization package, otherwise problems will turn into long critical flow stoppages, and potentially into an industrial accident.
This is why we have assigned Reflex Master WCS a dual role:
- Work better with WCSs, by integrating more quickly and more cheaply, and using the mechanizations dynamically according to their real time performance observed in relation to the real time operational changes of the logistic flows;
- Act as a multi-WCS manager on a site with several mechanizations in order, there again, to make the most of the possibilities observed in real time by the combined use of the mechanizations for the site, but without interfering in the internal functioning of these mechanizations.
A WCS Master to give the client free rein in choosing a WCS
What we’ve seen: an obvious increase in the mechanization and automation of our clients' warehouses.
Our role is therefore to support them efficiently and pragmatically as they transform their logistics processes, by providing them with flexible and high-performance solutions based on the latest technological developments.
In practical terms, there were 2 possible solutions:
Integrate a WCS
A solution that may seem very attractive from an integration stand point and as part of an application suite philosophy, but which, in our opinion, leads to 2 major disadvantages:
- It straitjackets our clients in their choice of solution, on sensitive processes, while many mechanized system manufacturer have their solution integrated and adapted to the imperatives of the technology used.
- It multiplies the number of contact people and reduces reactivity for incident resolution between the physical layers and the PLC supervisors, whereas these breakdowns are often critical for the operation of the site.
Propose a WCS 'supervisor'
Which must be a solution that is simple to set up and makes it possible to control the WCSs of the different mechanized processes of a site, by capitalizing on the numerous experiences of integrating REFLEX with robots and mechanizations.
This is the solution we have chosen because it has the advantage of leaving the client free to choose his WCS (conveyor, put to light, stacker crane, AVG, shuttle, etc.), and also, as is the case with many of our clients, makes it possible to control and synchronize several WCSs from REFLEX (for example Bol.com for which REFLEX synchronizes the processes with 3 WCSs depending on the sites and business processes).
The challenges of WCS Master
Facilitate the integration of WCSs
- Ability to "configure" mechanized processes and exchange natively with WCSs
- Event catalogs and APIs available natively as standard
- Several exchange protocols are available depending on the WCS, as shown in the diagram below
This makes it possible to provide a secure solution, which can be adapted to the many, often complex cases encountered by a client:
- Implement REFLEX on a site with existing (and possibly old) mechanization, start-up of which is to be secured
- Support the transformation of a site already equipped with REFLEX, with the implementation of automated equipment and robots, coexisting with other mechanized processes, etc.
Ensure efficient, secure exchanges
Notably through the technological choices made and the integration of the logics of event publication in publish & subscribe mode, and the logging of exchanges which makes it easier to resolve indicators.
Manage and coordinate all the mechanized processes from the WMS
The integration of WCS Master data in our WMS management tools (Dashboard, LMS, OFB) allows decisions to be made in real time:
- Supervise exchanges between applications, and quickly notify any faults and their impact on business processes in order to take the necessary action
- Business tracking of the mechanized activity to allow operational staff, with a single tool, to visualize in real time the load, the productivity, and the outstanding tasks for all the site's processes, and so supervise all the mechanizations in the same Dashboards as those with which they manage the rest of the activity
This new WCS Master brick, completely integrated into the WMS, allows operational decisions to be made, according to the available resources and unforeseen events reported, for example
In a very practical way:
- Choose the orientation of a stock according to a backlog or the processing capacity of a conveyor
- Reallocate certain preparation flows in the event of a delay in a process, according to the real-time load of PLCs and operators, in order to ensure that the service rate is respected
Overall, the objective is to provide more and more fluidity and agility, preventing bottlenecks and facilitating the management of unforeseen events, in order to allow our clients to make their sites as efficient as possible, through better use of all their human and mechanized resources.