Stress Testing Your Warehouse Execution System (WES)
As warehouses, order fulfillment operations, and distributions have grown more complicated and automated over the years, the lines between the various software systems that manage the systems have begun to blur.
In the past, an operation may have been able to function with only a Warehouse Management System (WMS) to handle the flow of inventory, from receipt of product to putaway, replenishment, order picking, and shipping. Then, as more and more operations began to automate their facilities with technologies like AS/RS, sorters, goods-to person, and other equipment, a new system became necessary—a Warehouse Control System (WCS), tasked with managing the automation.
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Today, a third software has entered the market to fill the gap between what is achieved by the WMS and WCS—the Warehouse Execution System, or WES, which typically performs all of the tasks previously associated with the WCS, as well as a number of tasks associated with the WMS.
It’s clear that bringing a WES into the mix can bring a number of benefits for many operations. But, as is the case when implementing any new system, one cannot simply choose a software, flip a switch, and be done. Before being pushed live, the WES must first be thoroughly tested to ensure that it can perform at the levels that will be required of it.
What is “stress testing” as it relates to Warehouse Execution Systems (WES)?
Every operation has a unique service level that it must be capable of meeting. Typically, this service level will be dictated by a combination of factors, the most important of which will include the average number of orders processed on a given day, as well as the number of orders that are processed during peak season.
Stress testing refers to the process of testing the Warehouse Execution System to ensure that it will be able to perform as necessary once it is live. At a minimum, the WES must be able to perform well in average and peak demand conditions in order to be effective.
Stress testing typically takes things up a notch by forcing the system to operate under extremely heavy conditions—often, many times the speed and volume that will actually be required of it—in order to find its breaking point. This allows the development team to identify any bugs in the system while still in the office, where they can be troubleshooted and fixed prior to taking the system live.
In addition to volume simulation, a state-of-the-art WES should come with complete external device emulation, in which the host interface, all touchpoints, PLC, scanners, and other external devices are emulated in such a way that the WES functions exactly as it will in the field. Again, the priority is to identify any potential issues prior to deploying the system, so that they can be resolved in the office or lab instead of the conference room during commissioning.
Evaluating Your Options Before Making a Decision
If you have decided that investing in a warehouse execution system is the right move for your operation, care must be taken to ensure that the system you go with will truly meet the needs of your operation.
Typically, we recommend that any WES you consider should exhibit three characteristics that will set your operation up for success:
- It should be configurable to the specific needs of your operation
- It should be modular to avoid bloat
- It should be completely ready-to-run prior to go-live
This last point, in particular, speaks to the importance of understanding the testing procedures of any software partner you are considering working with. Before moving forward with any implementation, be sure to ask the partners you are considering how they plan to stress test and troubleshoot the system prior to go-live so that you can be certain the partner you ultimately select will be able to provide a system that meets your expectations.
When in doubt, a skilled and trusted systems integrator can help you determine your best path forward, including understanding your options when it comes to implementing a WES for your operation.