How to set up your WMS for warehouse automation

Picture of Posted by Bill Denbigh

Posted by Bill Denbigh

April 7, 2022

Many companies are considering automating their warehouse. A major factor contributing to the strong interest in warehouse automation is the labour shortage, which is expected to continue for the foreseeable future. But for most warehouse managers, workforce is an element of your operational success. The second critical element is the warehouse management system (WMS). While the prospect of implementing automation to solve your staffing challenges is important, you also need to consider how to set up your warehouse management system for automation.

Here are three key factors to keep in mind when reconfiguring your warehouse management system to be ready for automation.

1. Integration

You first need to find out at what level your WMS can integrate with your chosen automation system. This integration will define how well the two technologies can work together. There are two main approaches, black box or WMS driven.

In the black box integration approach, the WMS sends the orders into the automation system and receives notification of activity back from the automation system. This means that the details of scheduling and workflows are all handled by the automation software. Black box integration transfers all control to the automation system.

In the WMS-directed integration approach, the WMS knows where and how all products are stored and sends individual activity to the automation system at task level. Although this approach requires a lot of effort to integrate, it allows the automation system to become much more integrated into the core function of the warehouse.

So which approach is right for your warehouse? If you have a very dynamic warehouse, where orders and plans are constantly changing, or where only a small part of the warehouse is controlled by automation, you may want to consider the WMS-directed integration approach. If your warehouse automation is more autonomous, the black box integration approach can provide less work and still be efficient enough.

2. Replenishment

Often, warehouse managers consider automation to increase warehouse picking rates. But it’s just as important to make sure you replenish goods efficiently and proactively. The thing is, you can’t increase your picking speed without increasing your replenishing speed. It is important to consider when and by whom replenishment will be managed and how often the automated areas will require replenishment. Check if your WMS can replenish based on expected activity and if it can optimize replenishments based on priority and need? Remember that adding storage capacity to automation to reduce the number of times you need to replenish an item can often come at a high cost.

3. More picking areas

The third important thing to consider when deciding how to set up a warehouse management system for automation is the manual goods. Most warehouses have a mix of goods, and some simply don’t work with automation – too big, too small, too heavy, too fragile, etc. If you have a mix of these types of items in your warehouse, it means you’ll need an effective plan for how to split orders into automated items and manual items (items placed outside of automation), and reassemble the order at the end of the picking process. This plan must take into account the expected increase in speed driven by the successful implementation of the automation project. The WMS must allow zone picking logic, which allows you to complete part of the order from the automation (via integration) and part of the order via manual picking by the WMS. This requires a very ‘automation friendly’ WMS and a pre-configured order consolidation area.

Ensure the success of your warehouse automation project

I realize that these three factors are not showstoppers when it comes to implementing storage automation, but they are things you need to carefully consider as it may require a redesign of the core storage workflow or even the layout of the storage floor. It’s important to have a thorough project plan in place before moving forward with your automation project. You need to understand all the potential implications and how you will set up your warehouse management system with your new automation system to ensure everything integrates effectively into your existing processes and workflows. Like any major change management initiative, an effective plan can make the difference between implementation success or failure.

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