By Matt Wicks, Chief Robotics Solution Architect
The labor shortage doesn’t look to be ending anytime soon, prompting more distribution center (DC) operators to consider implementing a variety of automated warehouse solutions to help ease their burdens. If your facility’s management is considering warehouse automation as a potential means to increase your DC’s productivity in a tight labor market, you’re not alone. In fact, 65 percent of respondents to MHI’s 2019 Annual Industry Report and Survey rated hiring workers as their single biggest challenge, followed closely by the perpetually shifting range of customer demands (e.g., lower pricing, faster responsiveness and more customization).
MHI’s report also examines the barriers many operations must overcome on their journey to automating order fulfillment and other handling processes. Decision makers, the report notes, often become overwhelmed as they struggle to stay on top of the latest automated and digital innovations, determine which technologies are the optimal fit for their needs, and decide how to sequence the optimal implementation of warehouse automation solutions and software.
At Honeywell Intelligrated, we partner with our customers to help them select, plan, and implement their best-fit solution. These installations combine advanced software, material handling equipment (MHE) and automation technologies to drive continuous warehouse productivity gains — regardless of workforce availability.
No two operations are the same, meaning no two solutions are the same. Yet all of our installations leverage a common technical foundation that is both flexible and scalable enough to match a facility’s evolving needs.
In the first of this two-part series, we will explore our software and material handling solutions that can improve your warehouse automation needs. Check back soon for the second edition, where we will further explore automated storage and retrieval solutions, order picking and robotic technologies to improve warehouse automation.
Warehouse management systems (WMS) provide core order fulfillment functions, including inbound and outbound product flow, inventory tracking, order management and waving. The WMS, however, has limited decision-making capabilities in terms of reprioritizing orders and reallocating tasks once they have been released to the floor, which inhibits flexibility.
Conversely, warehouse control systems (WCS) provide machine-level integration of the various MHE deployed throughout an operation. The WCS receives data inputs from the WMS, then directs the equipment to perform specific, predefined functions. But it lacks the visibility to inventory, orders and associates, i.e., it cannot provide on-demand, decision-making capacity.
Enter the warehouse execution system (WES), distribution software that enables the coordination needed to execute and modify manual and automated workflows in real time. This software delivers smart workflow allocations based on available labor and capacity, flexibly reallocates tasks based on order prioritization needs, and integrates machine-level control to fully leverage a variety of automated material handling solutions. All of these functions enable greater productivity without an increase in headcount.
The digital transformation in material handling
The latest automated material handling equipment is a key enabler of the digital supply chain. Outfitted with machine-level communicating sensors and enhanced connectivity, operations can more easily transition from manual to intelligent automated processes; from separate islands of automation to fully connected machines, assets and systems; from disparate to connected workers; and from localized to enterprise-wide visibility to all fulfillment activities.
A variety of information can be accessed and mined from the sensors embedded within automated material handling equipment, including by a WES. The collection of data from every aspect of an operation — in real time — leverages cloud-based data storage, analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence. By capitalizing on information from every aspect of an operation, a company can bolster network-wide productivity through increased equipment reliability, improved DC utilization and optimized labor.
Automated sortation solutions
Today’s automated sortation solutions are less about transporting similarly sized and packaged items from point A to point B, and more about flexibly, gently, accurately and intelligently handling a wide range of product sizes and package types — from malleable polybags to rigid plastic totes to corrugated shipping cartons. Sorters can be designed for a variety of workflow operations, including order consolidation; routing; flow balancing; zone skipping; shipping; accumulation; buffering and more. Equipped with sensor technologies, automated sortation solutions integrate tightly with WES to ensure maximum throughput and productivity while eliminating the need for manual sorting processes.
These are just an overview of the types of software and material handling solutions offered by Honeywell Intelligrated.
Sponsored content by Honeywell Robotics.