Day two at Modex: Software, software, software

Software, software, software: That's the theme at this year's show.

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In real estate, it’s all about location, location, location. At Modex this year, it’s software, software, software.

That was a big theme at a breakfast we shared with Brian Best, director of warehousing and distribution for Canada-based London Drugs. Best was at the show to talk about how his company is using voice technology from Vocollect by Honeywell. As an example, last year, he leveraged the system to move voice into new processes such as receiving and replenishment. Software made those moves possible. As part of the conversation, we also had a chance to talk about how e-commerce is impacting his distribution model. “As we’re moving more into omni-channel, one of the big challenges is determining where do we want to ship the order from,” he said, adding that London Drugs is already using a ship from store model for some of its orders. Software – especially distributed order management – is a part of that kind of solution.

Intelligrated introduced several new products and solutions, including a shuttle system for e-fulfillment. But the star of the press conference was Intelligrated’s Fulfillment Execution System, the company’s name for the layer of software that is somewhere between the WCS and WMS that manages order fulfillment. The idea is for the software to act as the operational brain when it comes to the actual filling of orders and determine the “next best task” in order to balance the wokload across the facility and meet service level agreements in the most efficient manner. Chris Cole, Intelligrated’s CEO, pointed out that software was the biggest area of new hires last year, a trend he expects to continue in 2014.

After the Intelligrated press conference, I had a chance to visit with Philipp Hahn-Woernie, a managing partner with viastore systems GmbH. While viastore is primarily know as a provider of automated storage and retrieval systems here in North America, they have also offered a combination WCS/WMS for many years, especially in their home turf in Europe. Hahn-Woernie said that software has been a key area of focus, and a market differentiator for viastore in Europe, since the late 1970’s. Today, he added, 33% of viastore’s staff is assigned to software projects. “If you walk around the show and look at everyone’s equipment, there area lot of similarities,” he added. “Software is what’s making the difference.”

Greg Cronin, Intelligrated’s executive vice president overseeing the software division, had a similar observation. “If you think about equipment, we have all figured out to create mechanics that work,” Cronin said. “The trick now is to make the mechanics work smarter, and that’s software.”

Part of the fun of attending ProMat or Modex is the chance to discover something new. Six or seven years ago, we saw Kiva, which has returned to the show. We also met PackSize and Opex for the first time at one of these events. Heck, today walking the floor, I had a chance to talk with an executive from Wynright who showed me an AS/RS solution they devised that uses a case picking robot on a rail, rather than a typical AS/RS crane for putaway and picking.

This year’s intriguing find was ACTIW (Booth 2329), a simple but slick automated solution for loading truck trailers and containers. The system works sort of on the same principle as pulling the tablecloth out from under a dining room table without disturbing the place settings. In the solution, a trailer or container load’s worth of pallets is staged on a thick plastic sheet. The sheet is then automatically pushed into the trailer; a rail holds the load in place while the sheet is automatically withdrawn. Leaving an entire trailer or container load worth of pallets in place.  According to Len DeWeerdt, a supply chain automation consultant representing the company in the US, the loading operation takes about ten minutes, once a load is staged. You can see more at the company’s website.

Last, I was reminded at a visit with Rite-Hite of the importance of paying attention to the basics. While much of the focus today is on order picking and packing, product doesn’t come into or leave a facility without a well-designed docks.
On to Day 3.

About the Author

Bob Trebilcock
Bob Trebilcock, editorial director, has covered materials handling, technology, logistics and supply chain topics for nearly 30 years. In addition to Supply Chain Management Review, he is also Executive Editor of Modern Materials Handling. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.

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