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I’m seeing a lot of innovation lately in the warehouse execution space and this is leading me to consider if warehouse execution system (WES) technology will create a significant impact on the traditional warehouse management systems (WMS) that are commonly implemented today. However, I thought it would be beneficial to provide an overview of a WES because I’ve noticed there are many misconceptions in this area of supply chain management.
First, let me start with a quick explanation of a WMS. Today, a WMS is largely a system of record — it tracks and records where everything is in the warehouse and reports on the activity done to move things around in the warehouse. It tells the material handlers where to get things or where to put things, but that is generally where the technology ends.
A WES is a system that manages the workflow and optimizes activity in the warehouse — a WES cannot operate without a WMS; it layers on top of the WMS and adds efficiency and direction to the work within the warehouse.
Now, it’s very important to realize that a WES is not a warehouse control system (WCS). A WCS is used to orchestrate the flow of activity for automation and coordinate material handling sub-systems such as conveyor belts, carousels, scales and sorters. A WES can be involved in managing the flow of work inside the automated parts of the warehouse, but a modern WES is far more focused on the human side of the warehouse and managing your material handlers for optimum efficiency.
The easiest way to understand a modern WES is to look at the three areas where a WES is making an impact on traditional WMS processes. Each layer builds on the previous and can be broken down into more detail:
The outbound processing of orders in the warehouse takes the most labor and has the most impact on the customer. The key areas during the outbound process that a modern WES manages the activity for are:
A modern WES analyzes all activity in the warehouse and prioritizes or allocates the activities by the likely impact of performing each individual task. This process can be summarized into two elements:
Integrating any warehouse automation into the human process side is the third area where a modern WES adds value. This automation can be in many types, but the three most common that WES supports are:
Now that you have a stronger idea of a modern WES’ capabilities and where it can improve the WMS process, you might be curious about what’s next for WES?
I believe the WES will next tackle those three common buzzwords — Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). Imagine a system that tracks everything in the warehouse automatically using IoT, AI and ML. The WES could analyze these results of changes in prioritization and factor in history to drive the most efficient use of all the parts of the warehouse while making recommendations for improvements.
In this instance, a WES could offer you a glimpse into the future of your warehouse and have a massive impact on the amount of work that can get done. More importantly, it would continue to support how your warehouse is organized and managed. It’s the new era of machine intelligence improving warehouse efficiency by the second!