Does Your Company Have the ‘Right Stuff’ to Embrace Advanced Analytics?

By: Henry Canitz – Director Product Marketing & Business DevelopmentPicture1

John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth on Mercury-Atlas 6 on February 20, 1962, just a few days after I was born. I grew up watching the Apollo Space Program launches including the six launches that sent humans to the moon and back. Like many kids back then I dreamed of being a test pilot and an Astronaut. I partially achieved that dream by becoming an Aerospace Test Engineer and working at Edwards Air Force Base where many of the early test flights by Chuck Yeager, Scott Crossfield, and other’s took place. On February 6, 2018, 56 years after John Glenn’s historic launch, SpaceX launched their Falcon Heavy rocket with Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster and a dummy named Starman on a journey into the solar system. The Falcon Heavy is a new class of rockets that may allow man to colonize Mars and beyond. Today, space launches are routine with launches happening on a monthly if not weekly basis. Exciting stuff for someone who dreamed of being an astronaut.

It is also an exciting time to be a Supply Chain Practitioner. Like space exploration, the supply chain has become significantly more complicated over the last 25 years. Technological advances have simplified and automated a lot of routine processes while opening up entirely new opportunities. These new frontiers require advanced capabilities to drive business value such as cost reduction and customer service improvements. Analytics, for example, today is a routine part of a supply chain professional’s job. We can now analyze the end-to-end supply chain and quickly determine the best path forward. While speaking with practitioners at industry events it is quite apparent, some supply chain teams have the ‘Right Stuff’ to fully embrace advanced analytics while others are just beginning their journey.

Moving up the analytics maturity curve takes a combination of the right talent, processes and enabling technology. Unfortunately, the people component is often not adequately addressed. As supply chain planning incorporates more data, supply chain roles need to be redefined to support analysis and decision making. Just as Chuck Yeager had to acquire new abilities and skills to break the sound barrier, companies have to define new skills and roles to meet their envisioned advanced analytic enabled processes.

Below are a few of the new analytic roles for leading supply chain teams today:

  • Business Analyst: understands business needs, assesses the business impact of changes, captures, analyses and documents requirements and communicates requirements to relevant stakeholders.
  • Supply Chain Analyst: responsible for improving the performance of an operation by figuring out what is needed and coordinating with other employees to implement and test new supply chain methods.
  • Artificial Intelligence Specialist: work on systems that not only gather information but formulate decisions and act on that information. Software that determines Sentiment from Social Data is one example of the work of Artificial Intelligence Specialists.
  • Data Scientists / Big Data Analyst: analyzes and interprets complex digital data, such as the usage statistics of a website, especially in order to assist a business in its decision-making.
  • Database Engineer: responsible for building and maintaining the software infrastructure that enables computation over large data sets.

As our enterprise systems continue to produce volumes of data, we need to make smart decisions faster to drive the business forward. Does your current team have the ‘Right Stuff’ to embrace advanced analytics? What new roles do you need in your supply chain team? How should your team be organized to efficiently run the business while also driving innovation? Are your current supply chain systems sufficient to leverage new data sources and enable advanced analytics? Can you automate routine activities? These are just a few of the questions you should ask as you embrace all that analytics has to offer to keep your supply chain team engaged in value-creating activities.

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About the Author:

Hank Canitz Picture

Henry Canitz is The Product Marketing & Business DevelopmentDirector at Logility. To read more of Henry’s insights visit www.logility.com/blog.

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Warehouse of the Future: Adopting Automation within Your Supply Chain – Part 1 of 2

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There’s currently a digital supply chain transformation that’s happening faster than the physical supply chain can react, requiring hybrid solutions in semi-automated environments where humans and robots work in tandem. New incentives to modernize operational capabilities should be added that capture efficiencies not previously achieved, while laying the foundation of a digitalized supply chain, continuously re-evaluating plans and evolving for performance.

Automation has been looked at as a solution to operational challenges, but trends in the marketplace signify an unprecedented rate of adoption taking hold in the coming decade. E-commerce is driving service expectations to levels that may not be achieved without the use of highspeed picking alternatives to manual operations. The aging generations in mature economies and challenges securing a loyal millennial workforce for repetitive tasks are creating increased disruption to staffing, forcing employers to look to automation to offset risk of labor shortages. Continued innovation has reduced costs of entry for automated capabilities, delivering improved business case justification for automation of many forms.

With such a strong justification, operations leaders across the globe are seeking ways to capture the potential that automation offers. Large scale transformation of distribution networks is capital intensive, however, and rarely warranted given the pace of change – however rapid – and market uncertainties. Therefore, we’re forced to look within existing environments to identify opportunities to introduce automation into existing facilities, combining automated equipment with manual operations, which requires the added complexity of orchestrating work across semiautomated operations. This scenario introduces the question of how to create an optimal environment allowing warehouse management systems (WMS) to orchestrate work across manual and automated areas to ensure efficient operations and maintain quality and service levels.

Part 1 of this 2-part blog series will take a deeper dive into today’s automation systems landscape and retrofitting today’s supply chain with automation. Part 2 of the series will cover disruptive technologies and digitalization and next generation capabilities.

The Current Landscape of Automation Systems

In automated environments, WMS often work alongside warehouse control systems (WCS) that manage the routing of containers as they traverse the material handling equipment, and warehouse execution systems (WES) which often have basic task management capabilities but not the level of control or optimization of a WMS. Below are a few general groupings of automation that typically leverage these entities in different ways.

  • Conveyors and sortation equipment receive destination / routing information from the WMS and leverage the WCS to divert containers to the appropriate location.
  • Pick execution equipment, including pick-to-light, carousels, or A-frames will receive pick instructions from the WMS and rely on the WCS to control the MHE. At times, these devices will manage task distribution and user interfaces for the performance of picks, though often, the WMS will manage the tasks through prioritization, and provide a common user experience (using consistent equipment where appropriate) for work performed in the pick modules and in bulk storage which feeds it (this work would include putaways, cycle counting, and picks where appropriate). Often, a WES has been sufficient for high volume outbound operations in retail, but with increasing emphasis on service levels, the advanced functionality of a WMS specific to inventory accuracy, pick module replenishment, cross-docking, and exception handling, the WMS brings a strong justification for a two-pronged approach.
  • Automated guided vehicles (AGVs) and automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS) are well established, though adoption is increasing as more forklift providers offer driverless units. These units can take direction from a WMS (typical when involved in semi-automated environments) or WES (often used in ASRS racking systems where materials are commingled or when the vehicles can follow multiple routes to alleviate congestion). In either scenario, a WMS is often utilized to manage inventory allocation to customer and order.
  • Palletizers use visual determination for pallet building capabilities, but most in use require some level of consistency in product dimensions at the layer level. Advanced pallet building and robotic arm picking capabilities are increasing in use, but require some consistency in dimensions. Improvements in digital sensing will soon be changing the game here.

Retrofitting Today’s Supply Chain with Automation

Automation adoption will continue to accelerate in response to advanced service level expectations and e-commerce, with a focus on scale and speed, whereas a continued migration of margin focused businesses will drive adoption of driverless vehicles and high-density storage modules, especially in cold storage or mega-cities with high volume real estate. The introduction of automation into the existing facilities will bring challenges, such as:

  • Traditional footprints, system capabilities, and business processes will be challenged when faced with the introduction of conveyance, sortation, and pick execution equipment. A natural inclination to delineate businesses, and potentially create channel-specific operations, can result in artificially inflated inventory levels and/or reduced service levels in increasingly sensitive environments to failures in this area. Multi-channel capabilities can be achieved, often driving operational leaders to adopt pick execution capabilities to distribute work without recognizing the backlash to overall service levels of having disparate capabilities with traditional WMS controlled processes. The results, if not thought through, can have repercussions on inventory accuracy, exception management, and operational efficiency.
  • The introduction of driverless vehicles (AGV or ASRS) offer strong advantages in terms of scale and cost, ROI projections in union environments can often deliver break even points less than a year after go-live, even in new projects. However, legacy storage equipment and material flow can introduce limitations. The environments best prepared for the introduction of driverless forklifts are those managing full pallets in bulk locations (where dimensions are predictable and stack requirements are well documented), or those where racking capacity is capable of managing fixed locations that can be tracked in the WMS (if locations can be dedicated to a specific lot), or in the WCS (where multiple pallet locations can be managed by the WCS but the WMS can manage storage/allocation in concert with non-automated areas). In more complex operations, the WCS can take a more active role in determining work and allocation, but this often drives customization and redundancy with WMS functions specific to the needs of the business.
  • More robust, piece level management in advanced pick modules controlled by ASRS such as goods-to-person automation, offer advanced capabilities for high volume distributors and e-tailers. Often, this will require tote storage of product to standardize the storage capabilities, though concessions for non-conveyables must be considered. Integrating pick and pack operations with traditional areas of the same operation also force decisions on how to integrate inventory management with shipping capabilities, adding complexity to projects as WMS and WCS providers offer similar capabilities.

Check back for part-2 of the blog series, where we’ll go into more detail around the technologies driving next generation warehouse automation and digitalization and next generation capabilities.

For more information download the Future Series white paper, “Adopting automation in the digital age.”

About the Author

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Matthew Butler, Industry Strategies Director, JDA Software

More more information contact, 0414 966 232.

Visit www.jda.com