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Warehouse Management Trends – A conversation with Tryon Solutions

Originally published on July 3, 2024, Updated on July 3, 2024
Warehouse Management Trends - A conversation with Tryon Solutions

Are traditional WMS systems able to meet the demand of customers’ rapid deployment needs?

Downing: There is a place and need typically for large, global companies to use traditional enterprise WMS solutions. Their requirements may dictate a scalable and highly customizable solution to accommodate their complex global enterprise needs for control and integration. Because of this complexity, implementations may take months and focus on linking processes and these high-tech tools. These companies need traditional WMS and implementation partners (like Tryon Solutions) to design, implement and integrate following proven implementation processes. 

However, other companies have different priorities where faster implementations, implementation and management cost, or a specific focus on direct-to-consumer (DTC) for example, may take priority. A Fulfillment Management System (an “FMS”) might be a better fit and well suited for an expeditious deployment. As these companies expand, being able to plan these systems for growth is key.

Although companies might be using large traditional WMS in their supply chains, they may also have a specific need for a particular operation where an FMS may be ideal. Often an FMS can be easier to use, configure, deploy, and connect to other tools, so this is an attractive solution in certain cases where both solutions can be integrated as part of a company’s supply chain strategy.

How will fulfillment management systems change the WMS landscape?

Downing: Fulfillment Management Systems offer a modern alternative to traditional WMS implementations, specifically for those companies with a strong focus on DTC and B2C orders. These companies want to concentrate more on their products and customer relationships…which they should! Most solutions in the market that are a great fit are cloud-based and come out of the box designed around industry best practices. This software is known for driving best practices rather than the processes driving software.

Many businesses are being pushed to deploy supply chain technology and improvements in a short time.  A WMS or FMS is foundational to managing any distribution operation, and other technologies (such as robotics, labor optimization, etc.) are all connected to or managed by the system. Businesses require solutions that can be quickly deployed or adapted to address their short- and long-term challenges. A cloud FMS solution that keeps up with and connects easily with the latest technology optimization and robotics options enables a company to rapidly adjust and optimize as business needs dictate.

How do you see AI impacting warehouse management systems?

Downing: Technology has always been at the forefront of revolutionizing change. Within the supply chain and warehouse realm, AI will have a bigger impact as we move into the future. Until robots do everything, there is still a need and desire for all companies to optimize warehouse personnel’s time (where the cost-savings exist). Current AI solutions being presented are typically around labor management, pick priority and analytics of trends. 

A wave of AI solutions is popping up across the market for supply chain management and optimization. In the past, we would implement systems that use algorithms against data you feed it and build instructions on. Now with AI you can give it the same data and access to more and it will figure out the rest—like a human would do.

Warehouse task optimization using WMS data is great, but let AI evaluate historical data, access order systems, check the weather, query truck arrival data from carriers, etc., then make priority adjustments accordingly. A warehouse manager or associate today may consider all of these factors and adjust their labor force’s focus manually, based on their experience and what they research themselves, but AI can probably do it faster and make adjustments in the system automatically.

In the same context of labor optimization, what if you can ask AI to tell you how many people you need working this week in the warehouse, should you overschedule given that the local school system has a teacher work day and there will be call-outs, or simply do some analysis for you and tell you what time will you be finished with everything that needs to ship today?  These are all questions asked every day by a warehouse supervisor that typically require some analysis or reporting to make decisions that with AI can be answered in a few seconds in the future.

When it comes to inventory management, slotting is always important. There are plenty of slotting solutions that can look at orders and recommend moves to locations marked as high velocity. AI can take it a step further and look at warehouse maps, understand process flows, and evaluate what items are popular based on trends or external factors and schedule moves accordingly to optimize travel time of associates and robots – moving product in the most efficient way possible.

This is only the beginning of the AI impact on supply chains! Tryon Solutions has experience implementing AI solutions for our customers with positive results and ROI. The future of AI is quite exciting and one that every company should embrace.

Related Content: 9 Ways AI Streamlines High-Volume Fulfillment

Given the speed of ecommerce, why is time-to-value so significant for today’s fulfillment operations? 

Downing: Customers want their ordered products now! If they can’t get it when they want or need it, they move on to another vendor. Customer acquisition and retention is always key to any business’ success. If a company’s supply chain is strained today because they can’t fill orders fast enough, rapidly addressing this issue is key! There are a few factors that can alleviate the pain:

  • Rapid deployment and scalability. This means working with the correct technology and using expert solutions providers that meet your needs now and into the future. 
  • Seamless connection to ecommerce, order systems, ERPs, transportation/parcel systems, etc.
  • Labor processes using precise picking and receiving standards
  • Systems ability to be agile and ever-changing

How will headless architecture enhance warehouse management systems?

Downing: Headless architecture is a software development concept that separates the frontend (user interface) from the backend layer (business logic). It can significantly enhance the warehouse management space  in many ways:

  • Modularity and flexibility
  • Scalability and performance
  • Integration with emerging tech
  • API-first approach

One of the biggest advantages is that it allows for easier connectivity between systems via APIs.  With the rise of the many warehouse automation and extension applications in the marketplace, access to the WMS framework via APIs enables a company to easily adopt this technology and integrate it into their operations—both during the initial implantation and subsequent improvement initiatives.

Why is having an intuitive UI significant for aiding day-to-day fulfillment operations?  What impact does having a good UI have on labor optimization? 

Downing: A software’s user interface is very important in our world today. Most people expect a user experience that would be similar to their smartphone. Also, accounting for the push to optimize labor along with customers demanding their product faster, it is important to make every part of the supply chain movement efficient and easier. This includes the WMS UI, whether that be on a desktop or mobile device.

The UI should be set up specifically to each user role and enable them to do their job efficiently and effectively. Minimizing mouse movement and keeping users off the keyboard are simple processes to start. Maximizing bar codes to input data quickly can help as well. 

Our industry relies heavily on temporary and seasonal labor. This means fulfillment solutions must be both streamlined and easy-to-use in order to onboard warehouse personnel to get up to speed quickly.  When evaluating WMS options, ease-of-use and adaptability for efficient usage by all roles in your warehouse is key.

What are the primary ways technology will improve labor planning and workforce efficiency?

Downing: Any WMS implementation is likely started with a business justification for the ROI, typically attained by the optimization of the warehouse processes and its labor force. The WMS, coupled with a labor management solution, enables the company to measure individual team members and their productivity in their various roles. Over time, the WMS can collect a large dataset that can be analyzed to determine reasonable expectancies for each task, or a company may choose to have industrial engineers complete time studies and create engineered standards.

Labor management technology continues to evolve to include not only data generated by the WMS, but the integration of smart devices. Applying features in most modern smartphones such as location tracking, step counts, and Bluetooth connectivity to IoT devices, means additional data points can be layered into the labor analysis and on a more granular level. This takes labor management to another level and creates efficiency profiles for each member of the warehouse team.

With all this information at hand, a warehouse manager can take each individual’s performance metrics into account when planning staffing. If an extra shift is needed during the holidays, let’s offer that overtime pay to the most efficient team members! Also, as robots continue to play more of a role in warehouse operations, labor management can provide reporting to management on the improved efficiencies.

In addition to data analytics and reporting, gamification, metrics dashboards, and pay incentives are also options that become available to motivate high performance among warehouse staff. AI will likely also start playing a role in analyzing how the labor is functioning throughout the day, evaluate any bottlenecks, understand trends, and use this analysis to automatically optimize tasks to streamline operations.

About Adam Downing: 

With 17 years of experience in warehouse management systems, Adam Downing co-founded Tryon Solutions in 2009 to address the increasing need for tailored and client-focused supply chain technical consulting services.  Surrounded by a fantastic team, he has led it into becoming a global leader in implementing supply chain execution systems.

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