One of the most famous puzzle’s out there, the Rubik’s Cube was invented by Ernõ Rubik to teach his students about 3D spaces. The puzzle has even entered the virtual space with the Rubik’s Cube app, allowing the space-solving game to be played nearly anywhere.
As SKU proliferation has continued to impact beverage warehouses, facility managers are turning to software solutions to solve their own 3D puzzle.
“SKU proliferation drives complexity to the supply chain,” says Kyle Nevenhoven, principal consultant at Dematic, Atlanta. “Software mitigates a significant amount of the challenges associated with SKU proliferation, in essence allowing producers to continually evolve products that more closely align with individual consumer preference. The proliferation of SKUs is a primary catalyst for automating picking operations that had historically been manual. The automation is dependent upon software to deliver the required functionality.”
Paul W. Laman, vice president at DMW&H, Fairfield, N.J., also emphasizes the importance of software solutions in warehouse operations.
“With an increase in SKUs, the warehouse storage density decreases, which emphasizes the need for an optimal use of the storage systems,” he says. “The software needs to manage the storage and slotting rules well to preserve the best space utilization possible.”
However, Dematic’s Nevenhoven points out that software solutions’ abilities to handle the complexities of beverage warehouses continues to evolve and offer much more to facilities.
“Beyond this, the role of software has evolved to mitigate this complexity by way of providing visibility through all aspects of the operation and allowing for true data-driven decision making,” he says. “This applies to all functions of the operation, including managing the purchasing of a vast SKU portfolio, maintaining proper pick locations and pick location sequences, optimal delivery pallet planning, and efficient delivery processes.”
Adapting the warehouse
Although SKU proliferation might be one of the macro trends impacting warehouses, experts note that operations are seeing impacts of automation, labor challenges and much more.
“Warehouses are becoming more advanced in automation,” DMW&H’s Laman says. “The software needs to keep up with the latest technologies including ASRS, shuttles, dispensers, high-rate merges, and sortation to make sure these technologies are ideally integrated into the overall solution for maximum benefit.”
Dematic’s Nevenhoven identifies three market trends that are driving warehouse software today.
“First, urbanization leads to more congestion and traffic, posing ever-increasing challenges for route planning and adaptive route delivery,” he says. “Labor challenges also impact warehouse software solutions, as turnover caused by a competitive job market has made it imperative for a software solution to be extremely intuitive.
“This allows for a new hire to be onboarded and trained as quickly as possible so that they can become nearly immediate contributors,” Nevenhoven continues. “Additionally, a well-designed software platform can provide a positive user experience, which assists in employee retention.”
The other trend Nevenhoven identifies is sustainability and the considerations it places on consumers, regulators, industry groups and more.
“Data is key to promoting sustainability, as it enables broader network visibility for easy identification of issues,” he explains. “For example, software can lessen inventory shrinkage through better inventory management while also reducing mileage and fuel consumption through optimized load and route planning.”
Steps toward advancement
With so many aspects impacting warehouse operations, software creators have dedicated their efforts to improve and advance the solutions to meet the needs of today’s warehouse.
“Regarding the WCS, the latest benefit is advanced wave picking algorithms to simultaneously handle the full range of customer delivery stop profiles from small bar deliveries as well as big chain stores and everywhere in between,” DMW&H’s Laman says. “Seasoned software systems take advantage of many implementations and market scenarios to make them powerful and flexible.”
Like many other industries, artificial intelligence (AI) is making its way through the warehouse software market, and experts anticipate it will become a bigger part of the future.
“The next generation software systems are starting to include artificial intelligence (AI) and more business intelligence tools to allow operations teams to react to performance dynamics more proactively,” Laman says “The software systems are now typically web based and can reside on a server in the cloud or a remote data center.”
Dematic’s Nevenhoven notes that AI capabilities will advance for software solutions through the assistance of cloud-based applications.
“The future of warehouse software solutions in the beverage industry revolves around cloud-based applications with a software as a service model,” he says. “This software model allows for continuous improvements through artificial intelligence and machine learning that regularly update the effectiveness and intelligence of the software.”
Choosing the best software for you
As operations managers contend with a growing list of varieties and pack sizes, selecting the correct type of software for warehouse management is vital to excel in today’s beverage manufacturing and distribution market.
“Distributors should take the time to understand what advances have been made in the industry regarding software systems, what the best practices are, and how companies similar to themselves are taking advantage of the latest software packages and features,” says Paul W. Laman, vice president at DMW&H, Fairfield, N.J. “It is essential to select a waving and processing software package that has dozens of installations and where the software can demonstrate that industry best practices have been matured and proven.”
Kyle Nevenhoven, principal consultant at Dematic, Atlanta, notes that when beverage operations audit their software and the processes it supports, decision-makers can better identify areas for improvement.
“Including these items in a well-formed request for information or request for proposal will help to narrow down the list of potential software vendors that may be a good fit,” he says. “It is critical to understand the potential simplicity (or complexity) of integrating with future automation.”
Nevenhoven adds that selecting a software vendor that offers modular approach will allow beverage-makers and distributors to reduce the number of customizations needed to support their operations.
“Your business will continue to evolve, and market demands and expectations will continue to increase,” he says. “Your software vendor should be willing to share the roadmap for their products that will facilitate you continuing to meet or exceed those future demands.”
Access to assistance also can be vital when selecting a software vendor.
“As many beverage operations work on a three-shift schedule, it is critical that a software vendor can provide support when needed,” Nevenhoven says. “When systems are down in the middle of the night, the ability to place a support call and speak directly with a customer support software specialist is far superior to calling an answering service and waiting for a response.”