The changing warehouse technology landscape is driving higher adoption of autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) and other new automation. How can companies unlock opportunities for greater efficiency, performance and cost reductions across the warehouse?

During a recent “How Warehouse Execution System Increases Warehouse Throughput & Utilization” Blue Yonder Live, I spoke with Joe Kozenski, Director of Product Management at Blue Yonder, about automation trends and advanced topics like task prioritization, predictive work assignments, and seamless robotics on-boarding. The following are Part 1 insights from the conversation.   

The Top Warehouse Automation Trends

Terence: Warehouse operations are suffering from issues surrounding lack of labor and retention, resulting in difficulty delivering products to customers. What are the current warehouse automation trends that you are seeing?

Joe: Having a consistent workforce in warehouses is very difficult. Inflation and the rising hourly cost are making it very difficult to get workers into facilities or stores to help with fulfillment. And even with hourly wages increasing, it is still hard to get labor in the door.

Another developing trend is the high level of service that many end customers are expecting from a delivery perspective. They also expect to get real-time information on their orders and their shipments.

These labor challenges and high customer expectations are affecting not only the distribution center, but also full warehousing operations, the manufacturers, the retail stores, and basically anywhere that is leveraging fulfillment today.

Terence: In your conversations with Blue Yonder’s customers, how are they tackling these challenges?

Joe: Essentially a lot of Blue Yonder’s customers are looking at addressing these problems with machine learning (ML) and automation. And when we talk about automation, it is not just autonomous robots or automating the processes within the warehouse. It’s also about automated decision making.

We have more data points and more variables in the supply chain than ever before. When we look at how to reduce outages or increase the serviceability to our end customers, there are too many variables for one person to take in. And that is where some of the ML or autonomous decision-making comes in. These are the top trends that we see our customers moving towards.

We also have customers that are looking for that first step towards automation within their warehouse.

How Autonomous Decision-Making Can Help

Terence: Let us drill down on the topic of autonomous decision-making further. In the warehouse execution timeframe, how could autonomous decision-making help?

Joe: We are hearing from industry analysts that Warehouse Execution Systems are providing additional benefits on top of the Warehouse Management System (WMS) or Labor Management solution. Many companies with a Labor Management solution or WMS have leveraged a lot of capabilities and squeezed every little bit out of those systems. A Warehouse Execution System provides the next layer of advancements to improve throughput, onboarding and value attainment.

But a Warehouse Execution System has a lot of differing definitions based on which industries and which parties are supplying it.

Blue Yonder’s Warehouse Execution System (WES) is really focused on helping customers achieve their warehousing goals through task optimization and coordination. It is looking at a customer’s holistic end-to-end workflows within the warehouse or even within their entire supply chain. It is finding out how operations and labor are related and how they impact one another during fulfillment times. It is also helping the onboarding of new automation and new technologies that are changing quite rapidly into the warehouse itself.

Terence: Is Blue Yonder’s WES scheduling tasks and is it only for labor  or robots?

Joe: As warehouses become more and more autonomous, they are not going to be people-absent. There will always be coordination between human and machine.

And that is why our WES looks at how we can incorporate robots and humans together so that we can better fulfill the broader warehouse goals. We are scheduling tasks not only for the human workers but the robots too.

Terence: Does this cover cobots too?

Joe: Cobots are collaborative robots that can safely operate alongside humans. Cobots and other new technologies are having a resurgence because of the extra investments and the high interests for customers in many extra use cases.

Processes and Use Cases

Terence: What are the processes that WES can help with?

Joe: Most of Blue Yonder’s 60+ customers using the solution are focused on task automation. Our understanding of the end-to-end relationship of tasks and how orders are needed to be replenished before they can be fulfilled enables us to help our customers.

For example, if you have an SLA that you need to hit at 5 p.m., that means you need to start picking at a certain time. The system coordinates all the tasks and automatically plans, prioritizes, and, if changes happen, re-prioritize the work of both labor and robots autonomously to help you meet that SLA. This enables your wave planner to focus on the more important things or the more pressing matters within the site. The tasking capabilities also provide ML modeling, which enables better estimations based on your data, site profile, and how long certain picks should or should not take, and many other factors.

Terence: Can you share more about the robotics side?

Joe: Robotic automation is where we have a simplified ingestion kind of framework that allows for standardization of use cases with various automation vendors. We have 13 automation vendors currently certified in the robotics portion of WES. This really gives our existing customers a good awareness of the capabilities of vendors and which ones would best meet their requirements.

We are enabling much quicker onboarding time and more reliable communication methods. In implementation, we start the troubleshooting as soon as the onboarding of new robotics vendors takes place and help provide higher levels of serviceability and standardization from a robotics perspective.

More Insights to Come

Please stay tuned for Part 2 where Joe and I will explore the future of warehouse execution and the additional benefits.

ICON London

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