Rapid advancements in supply chain technology are introducing new innovation and potential disruption across industries. As leading innovators are experimenting, most other companies are keeping a close eye on development and are monitoring impacts and opportunities. Industry forces are shaping unprecedented investment around automation –  between labor pressures, including rising wages and retention challenges, evolving direct to consumer and order online/pickup in store channels, the Amazon effect and how it’s impacting service levels and delivery expectations, and continued margin focus are all requiring these trends are met efficiently and effectively. Automation offers remediation to many of the challenges operations leaders are facing, which is why this sector is poised for exponential growth.

Automation has gotten both cheaper and more important to manufacturing and supply chain companies, as it can offset risks and solve the end-to-end problems associated with peaks and volume, an unstable workforce, or speed and service level changes. In the past, there was always a large cost of entry and a lot of lead time, but because of the tremendous amount of research and development more recently, that’s no longer the case. Falling commodity prices have fueled a trend through financially justifying these strategic programs that diminish risk and improve operational efficiency, reinforcing the trends of reduced costs and speed to value.

Companies that haven’t started to think about an automation solution could be severely impacted by these developments in the near future. Manufacturing and supply chain companies recognize their world is changing very fast and they need to be ready or the results could be damaging.

Tomorrow’s Disruption on Display at ProMat

This highly competitive market has undergone transformation with the consolidation of key providers. Additionally, a heavy emphasis on research and development has brought the next generation of disruptive technologies to the market. This is set to define the key capabilities and most successful suppliers for decades to come.

Robotics and automation in general has always been associated with the automotive industry. The automotive industry has driven this trend forward and reduced the cost of entry drastically. Now you’re looking at commoditized hardware that can be implemented within manufacturing and supply chain companies. And, with people facing ecommerce pressures, it’s becoming more frequent that they turn to these solutions to solve their problems and ensure scalability. Cheaper robotics have turned the distribution industry upside-down in terms of providing alternatives to their customers that can be quickly adopted and lessen the pressure on their existing networks in a much more cost efficient way.

Companies need to focus on what their solutions are going to look like so they can accelerate the automation process and apply it to their distribution networks, which likely consist almost entirely of legacy assets that are not purpose built for automation, as soon as possible. They also need to pay close attention to the next generation of technologies and who’s going to develop and expedite the adoption process and reduce the costs.

Some of the key questions I’ll be looking at specifically include:

  • Driverless forklifts and next generation AGVs offer tremendous opportunities to scale operations and reduce costs, but managing these vehicles for efficiency and safety is a big question mark. What are the providers touting these capabilities doing to ensure speed to value and ability to retrofit existing operations?
  • Who will make the best use of automated image recognition capabilities to drive logic traditionally dependent on master data and system controls?
  • What advancements have been made in automated picking (eaches or cases) that can reduce the cost of entry for experimenting with these technologies?
  • What other ecommerce concepts can help companies scale during peak and alleviate challenges in meeting customer demands?

Most importantly, I’ll be working through how JDA Warehouse Management System (WMS) will orchestrate these environments and the networks which employ multiple automated concepts. The more complex these environments get, the more important it is to have a strong engine that’s focused on getting the most of all assets available, in alignment with the ultimate goal of an optimal customer experience.  For customers that remain on dated versions of WMS, the advantages of automation will likely remain unobtainable, and they’ll be forced to watch competitive forces driven by the early adopters impact their business while they seek to justify investment in foundational capabilities while increasing market pressure erodes their available capital.

Advancing to the Next Generation of Warehouse Management Systems

JDA Warehouse Management can help manufacturing and supply chain companies orchestrate their environments and networks which employ multiple automated concepts – bridging the gap between the legacy establishment and fully automated future which is likely beyond near term grasp Whether introducing Automated Guided Vehicles, ASRS, automated or enhanced picking, or advanced conveyance and sortation equipment, the WMS will provide the logic to optimize utilization of associates and assets while driving fulfillment processes to deliver an ideal customer experience.

JDA WMS provides a wide range of industry leading supply chain solutions from planning to execution. The cloud-optimized platform is a service oriented architecture consisting of client, application and database layers intelligently constructed to meet the demands of mission critical, high-volume operations.

More recently, JDA upgraded WMS to focus more on intuitive user experiences driving speed to value and adoption, optimization, agility and sustainability. Upgrades offer the opportunity for companies to drive efficiency in operations while maintaining service level expectations, flexibly respond to new customer requirements in a changing world and deliver an environment that serves the needs of today with a foundation for tomorrow.

Thanks to all who stopped by our booth (#S4574) at ProMat in Chicago!