How a Warehouse Execution System (WES) Can Augment Your Autonomous Mobile Robot (AMR) & Robotics Systems
Robotic systems like autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) have become increasingly common in warehouses, distribution centers, and order fulfillment operations around the world for a simple reason: They work. Robots boost efficiency, increase productivity and throughput, and lower costs compared to leveraging human workers for the same tasks, and they do so without needing breaks, making mistakes, or demanding a pay raise. That’s what we’d call a win-win.
If you’re thinking about implementing AMRs or another robotic system in your operation, though, it’s important to ensure you have the right software in place to truly get the most value and ROI out of your investment as possible.
Got questions about the software requirements involved with implementing AMRs in your facility? Speak with a member of the Conveyco team.
When you utilize an autonomous mobile robotic system for your operation, you are really purchasing two things: First, the hardware, which executes a task (such as retrieving, storing or transporting inventory) and secondly the controls and each AMR’s proprietary software system (called Robot Control Software, or RCS).
Robot Control Software (RCS)
The autonomous mobile robots use integrated sensors, LIDAR, SLAM, cameras and processors to move either with or without physical guides, reflectors, RFID or QC codes, depending on the robot’s application and work environment. AMRs utilize software to make many of its application decisions (such as routing, maintenance, charging, etc.). They can have much higher levels of autonomy compared to many other forms of automation, and act independently on lower-level functions and report back to its base software.
Each autonomous mobile robot (AMR) includes software which controls the robot in real time and moves it in an efficient manner within its work area or zone. The AMR system is controlled by the RCS that optimizes individual robot tasks, status and location and the system’s optimization, and traffic.
The AMR RCS software integrates and communicates with other warehouse information systems, such as warehouse management systems (WMS), warehouse execution systems (WES), and enterprise resource planning (ERP).
The software provides the hardware with intelligence to make decisions and execute application specific operations and tasks. Some of the more advanced systems will offer an additional layer of functionality, such as slotting, but this is not yet common and certainly not the industry standard.
Reasons to Consider Adding a WES
In either case, if you plan to leverage AMRs in your operation, implementing a warehouse execution system (WES) can prove beneficial for a number of reasons.
1. The WES adds missing functionality that the RCS may or may not have.
The first benefit of layering in a WES is that, if the AMRs that you plan to leverage in your facility do not have robust software, adding a WES into the mix will allow you to step in and fill in the gaps in that functionality.
For example, if your AMR solution comes with a built-in RCS that truly only controls the unit’s actions, you still need a WES to direct those actions. Further if you find that you would really benefit from a bot with slotting capabilities, a WES can add that layer of functionality. Other WES functionality that can impact AMR performance include wave management, zone balancing, labor balancing (or shifting due to lower/higher levels of activity in other zones). Even in cases where an RCS has some of this functionality built in, it is very likely that a WES will be better equipped for the job. In the vast majority of cases the AMR RCS will be a standard package. One size rarely fits all. A WES can fill the gaps between the standard RCS and the requirements of your DC.
2. A manufacturer-agnostic WES will allow you to mix and match your AMRs.
The second benefit comes not from simply leveraging any WES, but from leveraging one that is truly manufacturer-agnostic.
Not all WES systems are manufacturer-agnostic. This means that when you purchase a WES, you often become “locked in” to the hardware ecosystem of a particular manufacturer, either because the WES is owned by a specific manufacturer or has relationships with very specific manufacturers. The end result is that you are limited in what hardware you can leverage in your operation.
A manufacturer-agnostic WES, by comparison, is explicitly designed to play well with others so that you have full freedom to choose whatever hardware you wish to leverage in your operation, regardless of the manufacturer.
This means that if you are implementing robotics or automation within your operation, you will not be limited to using only bots from one manufacturer. You can, for example, leverage AMRs from Manufacturer A for picking, AMRs from Manufacturer B for transportation, AMRs from Manufacturer C for Sortation, etc.
The ability to mix and match ensures you always have the freedom of choosing the best possible solution, without having to settle. This can be the difference between a solution that is only “good enough” and one that is best in class.
3. Ease of communications with all levels of software
The Warehouse Execution System software becomes the central communications point for all technologies and automation including autonomous mobile robots and robotics. The WES then communicates to the higher level software system(s) including the WMS or ERP. Assuming you have a top level WES, this communications bridge is simple and robust. Likewise, all the lower level machine functionality will communicate to the WES allowing it to orchestrate the different operations and zones within your facility… including the autonomous mobile robots and robotic systems. This provides a one stop shop to find alarm messages as all these disparate technologies report to the WES.
How to Evaluate a WES for Your Operation
If you’re considering implementing a WES alongside your AMRs or other automation, it’s important to ensure you make the best possible choice. In evaluating your options, you’ll want to seek a software that is manufacturer-agnostic, as noted above. You’ll also want to find a WES that is:
- Modular, so that it can grow and change with your business
- Ready-to-run from day one, to limit downtime during cutover
- Capable of supporting a range of picking strategies, whether that be wave, waveless, or overlapping waves
A trusted systems integrator can help you understand your options and guide you to the solution that makes the most sense for your business. Contact us today to speak with a member of the Conveyco Team.