As the world continues to grapple with the supply chain problems caused by the pandemic, companies are increasingly looking for ways to streamline their operations. One area of increasing interest is warehouse management solutions (WMS). Andrey Kazachkov, Head of Warehouse Automation at the premier custom software development provider First Line, takes a look at some of the warehousing cases that determine whether to invest first in hardware or software when starting the warehousing automation process, and some notable exceptions to both cases.
In my last article, Should my repository be automated? We reviewed the basics of WMS and looked at the differences between a manually operated warehouse with people as the primary resource for moving goods, as opposed to a fully or partially automated warehouse scenario. Once you have determined that your repository requires some level of automation, the next question is whether to start the conversion with hardware or software.
It’s no surprise that your company’s business process determines whichever comes first.
Most organizations looking to implement a WMS solution will likely have some hardware and equipment in place and would like to integrate this infrastructure with software to run more efficiently, we’ll take a look at this situation in a moment. But let’s start with two scenarios where software takes precedence.
Where Software Comes First
Let’s start with the premise that you are creating an automated repository from the ground up. This includes raising a completely new building or starting with an existing empty structure.
Here, you may initially think that the answer is to first buy the hardware needed for your specific needs and it is likely that the software will be combined with it or added afterwards. This is usually the preferred path to follow when starting from scratch as we will see shortly. However, non-standard exception clauses are a great example of where the right choice of software should come first, primarily because software is easier to customize than hardware.
Situations include, but are not limited to:
- High-security traceability requirements for products such as drugs, controlled substances, hazardous substances, or very high-value goods.
- When certain features such as augmented reality glasses, Pick By Voice commands, or highly specialized robots need to be integrated.
Another common situation where software is the predecessor of hardware is that there are pre-existing hardware, and new hardware must be integrated into the system. This is often the case when you need to increase speed and productivity. Here, the new software is a bridge of compatibility between existing and new hardware.
Where hardware comes first
One of the main drivers in the decision to choose hardware before software is… you guessed it, cost. The price of the warehouse management software in the common warehouse system is about 20% of the total budget. This is mainly due to the fact that the devices are less flexible in terms of customization. You buy hardware knowing that it can do the job at hand, while software can be constantly modified and updated to suit your equipment needs.
As I mentioned before, if you are building or starting a repository from scratch, starting building with hardware would be the preferred path. There can be a myriad of reasons for this, but here are some of the main ones to highlight:
- Knowing your hardware and equipment in advance allows you to more efficiently plan your warehouse layout, allocate workplaces, and select hardware suppliers while observing licensing agreements.
- You can eliminate errors in your process at an early stage before implementing the automation aspect of the program.
- The type of hardware and equipment you purchase will be the deciding factor in calculating the speed of your warehouse. Software created by experienced service providers allows you to adjust the load of your devices based on needs, but there is usually a maximum speed limit for most devices.
- The old adage, “time is money” is most applicable here because your repository will run faster if you start with hardware and equipment first. عايز لعبه الكور
When the hardware is already there
As mentioned earlier, most organizations looking to implement a WMS solution will likely have some hardware and equipment in place, and would like to integrate this infrastructure with software to either improve or create some level of automation. As it turns out, this path can ultimately be more expensive for the customer if they are not aware of some of the risks when trying to integrate existing equipment with new hardware and/or software. الرهان على المباريات
There are more points here, but some of them also apply to the hardware question versus the software question above:
- The operating system of the new WMS needs to communicate with the operating system of the rest of the company as well. This is not usually a low-level integration.
- You need to know what equipment standards are applicable in your region or country. Equipment from the same manufacturer can be site specific, and in some cases may not be compatible with your existing hardware.
- When choosing one equipment supplier over another, evaluate not only the initial cost of integration, but also the cost of technical support and maintenance in the future.
- Integration should be with so-called basic equipment such as gauges, scanners, computer monitors (sufficient screen resolution is not an example) etc. Looking at the little things can quickly become very costly.
- When old or existing hardware is combined with new hardware and software, simulators are usually built that mimic older systems before they are considered fully compatible with the new hardware. This can cost tens of thousands of dollars or euros.
- There are customer ready-made simulation solutions for DIY, but the process of getting system approvals and making them work can be time consuming.
When hardware and software come first
Of course, as in all aspects of life, there are exceptions to every case. Storage facilities that have very specific requirements and very challenging environmental situations will require the acquisition and integration of hardware and software at the same time. This requires providing equipment that can handle such extreme environmental conditions and developing software that can integrate with the equipment to do the work required at the same time.
Here are some examples:
- A temperature-controlled warehouse for goods that need either cold or hot storage and the consequent movement in and out of the facility.
- Special climatic conditions such as low oxygen environments where protecting assets from fire, moisture and pests is critical. ارقام حظ برج الدلو
A real example of this latter point is First Line Software’s partnership with viastore which completed the archiving and logistics center of one of the largest banks in Europe occupying an area of 53,000 square metres. It was the largest warehouse automation project in Eastern Europe. The hard truth is that ALC personnel do not have physical access to storage areas due to the lack of oxygen supply needed to protect contents from fire, moisture and pests.
This scenario necessitated that the entire process of archiving operations be fully automated. Here the customer’s process requirements dictate that the solution needs software, and that specialized hardware is provided together to implement the facilities requirements.
Where does your WMS start?
Amid all the pitfalls touched upon above (and others not addressed due to lack of space), don’t despair! The good news is that it is possible to integrate and update your existing repository at a reasonable cost, even using equipment from different manufacturers. The first step to achieving this goal is the responsibility of the customer.
Do your best to eliminate – or at least reduce – the “middle man”. It is important for you to control the development process at all stages and to review your requirements as soon as possible. From there, you should expect direct line communication support to the software and hardware port. Project management should remain at home if possible.
The most important decision you are likely to make is choosing this very important port. Not every developer or resource can understand the complex processes of WMS. Here you should use the concept of “single vendor”: First Line Software’s partner, viastore can provide not only their own hardware, but equipment from other manufacturers as well; In addition to providing their latest WMS software solutions.
Having a single vendor to work with and communicate with directly has a distinct advantage apart from the ease of providing more hardware services, updating software systems; You are establishing a cutting edge partnership that will help support your company’s future successes.
Come meet us at First Line Software’s free online event on November 18th – How to assemble a WMS/MES/ERP puzzle to increase production efficiency.
Reserve your place here