Recent research shows the global warehouse automation market will increase from $29.6 billion in 2020 to $69 billion in 2025.
That’s not surprising given the recent accelerated growth of eCommerce. Warehouses and distribution center (DC) operators continue investing in automation that includes material handling equipment (MHE) solutions to keep up with consumer trends. However, when you invest in solutions from various vendors, those systems cannot adequately communicate with one another, and you end up lacking end-to-end visibility across the value chain.
The right warehouse control system (WCS) allows you to easily manage and optimize the flow of materials using your entire portfolio of MHE instead of individually controlling automation devices. It’s simply more efficient and effective.
Let’s take a look at the reasons why Boot Barn, the largest retailer of western and work apparel, footwear and accessories in the United States, implemented a robust WCS. Then, we’ll discuss other benefits of a system that integrates all sorts of MHE and automation, regardless of the vendor.
WCS enables Boot Barn to step up productivity
Recently Boot Barn, which has major distribution centers in California and Kansas, decided to expand its Kansas facility by 45,000 feet – 50% – to accommodate expanding eCommerce business. In doing so, it chose an intelligent WCS to serve as the single point of control for its entire MHE system. This helped Boot Barn increase throughput speed by 25% and picking productivity by 50%, while reducing staffing costs.
The WCS seamlessly integrated with Boot Barn’s Warehouse Management System (WMS), maximizing benefits of the entire solution as a whole. While a WMS manages the inventory itself, tracking products from arrival to departure, a WCS manages and controls how inventory flows across different technical equipment in a warehouse or DC. Think of the WCS as a traffic cop that reroutes inventory when resources experience high volumes.
One thing Boot Barn’s robust WCS did, for example, was direct empty transport crates to an order zone where a worker scans the tote and order, coupling the two before sending it to the next stage of processing. This could be a packing station, another zone for a subsequent pick or to a consolidation zone – all the way to the end of the process.
Although managing and leveling occurs automatically within the WCS, the dashboard provides a central point for monitoring and controlling the entire MHE system.
“The project has been a success so far, and we are definitely tracking on our ROI calculations,” said Doug Smith, Boot Barn’s Vice President of Supply Chain. “We are very happy with the solution we have in place right now.”
Unify technology from different suppliers
Although Boot Barn used the same vendor for its WCS and WMS, the best WCSs on the market are vendor-agnostic.
This software enables your warehouse or DC to benefit from a seamless workflow between all your MHE solutions as it optimizes product routes, increases visibility and optimizes storage. In fact, if you use any kind of automation, regardless of the number of vendors involved, a WCS centralizes control of all MHE, enabling you to manage various solutions in one place.
For example, a WCS allows your shuttle-based pallet storage system to communicate with your pallet conveying equipment, which can also talk to your layer pickers – and so on, depending on your technology investments.
So, if your warehouse is like others and has a portfolio of MHE from multiple vendors, it’s critical to run your operation as a unified system with a WCS tying them all together. In fact, a modern-day WCS gives 100% visibility across the supply chain, enabling you to trace and fix material routes when time-consuming malfunctions occur.
WCSs help companies grow in eCommerce channel
As eCommerce continues to grow, warehouses and DCs continue to adapt to changing SKU mixes, order sizes, seasonal and promotional variability and unpredictable – often smaller but more frequent – order volumes. Many of them have adopted more MHE and automation technology like shuttle systems, sorters, automatic storage and retrieval systems and autonomous mobile robots (AMRs). But when they lack communication and aren’t unified, you simply can’t deliver the throughput needed to succeed.
However, a configurable WCS knows, for instance, where items, cartons and pallets are as they move through various automated systems in your DC. It ensures your orders are tracked and run smoothly from one automated solution to the next. And it enables companies to succeed in growing eCommerce channels.
Configurable system ties all equipment together
In summary, the most robust modern-day WCS enables you to:
- Manage all conveyor and storage technology solutions, regardless of the vendor.
- Automatically adjust material flows when malfunctions occur.
- Support for all common MHE workflows.
- Enable optimization through constraint-based algorithms.
- Automate simulations using an offline emulation mode.
- Support increased transactions through a data-driven architecture.
- Gain full transparency across your automation chain.
- Accommodate changing requirements and scenarios, evolving as your warehouse does.
- Integrate with your warehouse management system (WMS) for optimum control of your automation technology.
- Visualize your DC’s entire material flow with intuitive dashboards.
Want to know how a configurable, vendor-agnostic WCS can help you turn supply chain complexity into opportunity? Visit here.