Storied newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer is known to have said, “What a newspaper needs in its news, in its headlines and on its editorial page is terseness, humor, descriptive power, satire, originality, good literary style, clever condensation, and accuracy, accuracy, accuracy.” As beverage warehouses balance SKU proliferation and omnichannel shopping patterns, facility managers are turning to software solutions to ensure that accuracy takes that same priority in their operations.

“Wholesalers are utilizing WMS/WCS applications in the beverage industry to help them move product more quickly and efficiently, reduce their inventory levels, and increase their order-fulfillment accuracy,” says Dave Williams, vice president of technologies solutions for Westfalia Technologies Inc., York, Pa. “In addition, WMS/WCS applications are being used to help bring products to the market in a more efficient manner, thus reducing the cost of goods and the need for larger inventory levels at the retail level of the supply chain. Finally, as consolidation of inventory has become increasingly prevalent, wholesalers are using WMS/WCS applications to track/transfer and manage the inventories — shipping from the preferred location and reducing damages and spoilage.”

Paul Laman, vice president of food and beverage for DMW&H, Fairfield, N.J., also explains how consolidation is placing greater demands on software solutions.

“Often, consolidation leads to doubling the SKUs and volume,” Laman says. “This puts more complexity and demands on the overall operation to fulfill orders and manage the inventory. And, in turn, the software systems have a much bigger responsibility to maximize operational productivity using the best available application functions, features and algorithms.”

Yet, beverage operations are not the only industry undergoing changes. As consumers’ shopping patterns evolve, distributors are trying to adjust to this digital shift while still exhibiting efficient and accurate operations.

“The increased demand from large retail stores, small stores, eCommerce, and home delivery is anticipated to boost the growth of the food and beverage warehousing market,” Westfalia’s Williams says. “Most of the products in the food and beverage industry are perishable and hence, retailers expect minimum time to restock their shelves with products. Also, some food/beverage products have seasonal sales, which requires additional labor.

“With the growing demands of customers, the need for improving speed and accuracy has become crucial in the supply chain,” he continues. “This is driving retailers and wholesalers in the food/beverage sector to adopt automation technologies such as warehouse management system software, warehouse control system software, and automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS) in their warehouse facilities.”

DMW&H’s Laman also explains how software solutions are adjusting to account for the shifts in retail shopping. “The retail beverage industry continues to see a growth in grocery stores and large chain stores, as well as maintaining deliveries to small package stores and restaurants,” he says. “So, the software systems need to be nimble enough to process both spectrums of order profiles and service demands.”

Mature technology

With decades of advancements on its side, warehouse software solutions have evolved to offer a host of programs such as management software, execution software and control software.

“The latest software packages for the beverage industry are now very mature and reflect 20-plus years of best practices,” Laman says. “The [warehouse control software] (WCS) systems now have many advanced waving algorithms to maximize both picking efficiency as well as orderliness in the delivery truck, all while making sure the flow over the conveyor systems is well-balanced and flows well. The WCS also controls the higher performance technologies like high-rate sorters, merges, dispensers and shuttles.”

Westfalia’s Williams explains how the company’s Savanna.NET software has progressed to incorporate the latest advancements that are needed to support today’s complex beverage warehouse.

“Westfalia offers a complete warehouse execution system (WES), Savanna.NET,” he says. “Savanna.NET communicates with various types of automated handling equipment more effectively than many other WES applications might. As users generate orders for fulfillment, the Savanna.NET efficiently breaks the orders into logical units of work and then utilizes its robust warehouse control functionality to direct automated material handling equipment and/or manual labor to execute the work.

“The sophistication of the Savanna.NET WES enables an organization to utilize its automation and warehouse personnel more efficiently, deliver better storage utilization, increase inventory accuracy, improve product traceability, and allow for customizations to accommodate specific warehousing needs,” he continues.

But just as warehouse software solutions have evolved, beverage operations continue to as well. As such, facility managers should think about what future operations will entail before investing in this technology.

“Companies need a software solution that is scalable and that has been architected with flexibility and growth in mind,” Williams says. “Also, the size of the operation has an effect on the system with regard to computing power needs as well. Often the computing power (i.e., number of CPUs, amount of memory and amount of disk storage) increases as the size of the operation and the amount of information that is managed grows.

“For smaller operations, a WMS can help improve efficiency by automating spreadsheets to track inventory, personnel or shipments,” he continues. “As a facility grows, things like product traceability and staff efficiency may require slightly larger automation initiative. This is where facilities of any size would benefit from using a warehouse execution system (WES) to manage their processes.”

Going forward, Williams expects that the modular capabilities of WES solutions will lead to it the preferred choice of warehouse operators.

“We will see more warehouses and distributers choosing a WES over separate WMS/WCS systems,” he explains. “With its modular capability, a WES enables companies of any size to use only the functions they need to handle their warehousing processes. This could range from managing invoices and tracking inventory to fully automating the warehouse with an automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS). Also, instead of purchasing new software when you add new pieces of automation, you simply turn on the WCS features within the WES that you need to manage these new processes. 

“Further, by using a WES for warehouse management tasks, staff become familiar with the software and its functionality,” Williams continues. “Then, as more automation is added to a facility using the warehouse control functions, staff can focus on using the equipment and adopting any new automation into day-to-day processes instead of learning new software.”

DMW&H’s Laman prognosticates that artificial intelligence also will play a bigger role in warehouse software solutions.

“The Shiraz WCS is in the process of developing additional business intelligence and artificial intelligence tools to give the operations team additional tools towards improvement,” he says.