Simplify Automated Storage System Connectivity, Control with an Experienced SAP EWM or WM Integrator

For operations with multiple subordinate automation systems—including automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) such as vertical lift modules (VLMs), horizontal carousels and vertical carousels—connecting both their control and communications to warehouse management and material flow systems can be challenging.

That’s why more companies are taking a closer look at implementing SAP Supply Chain Execution (SCE) Extended Warehouse Management (EWM) or SAP Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) Warehouse Management (WM) in their automated and/or conventional warehouses. Either choice can be customized to connect administrative functions to warehouse management to material flow to automation (and back).

SAP ERP working with WMS, MFS and PLC

Depending on your use of your ERP, the connection with WMS, MFS and other software can vary.

Whether the choice is SAP EWM or WM, partnering with an intralogistics solutions supplier who is experienced in linking and streamlining a workflow from WMS to the given automation equipment’s programmable logic controllers (PLCs) is critical to a successful implementation and higher ongoing benefits later. Because each integration is highly situation-dependent, and the ideal solution may require customization of standardized architecture—or application of additional software—to best achieve an operation’s goals within the constraints of budget, timeline, processes and equipment investments (both current and planned).

For example, consider a new integration of an SAP ERP to a series of non-networked VLMs. Without a connection to SAP EWM or WM, goods movement in and out of the VLMs must be directed manually. That means, in order to complete a pick from the storage module, management first has to create an order for goods movement in the ERP, producing a pick list accessed by an operator at a remote computer station. The operator receives the order information, prints it, travels to the VLM, and executes goods movement in the machine by manually keying in the instruction at the human machine interface (HMI) screen. After waiting for the proper tray to queue, the operator searches for and picks the item, and finally travels back to the computer station to confirm the pick.

The downsides to the above scenario are numerous:

  • Duplicate data capture and order management processes (both at the VLM and at the ERP interface via computer workstation).
  • Access to goods in the VLM can only be triggered manually.
  • Verification within the VLM of a correct pick, as well as acquisition of track-and-trace data (such as batch, lot, material number, serial number, etc.), is not possible.
  • Completed pick posting is delayed until the operator returns to the computer workstation.
  • The potential for error (mispicks, posting mistakes, posting failures) is high.

Alternately, integrating the VLM’s PLCs with SAP EWM or WM saves processing, travel and pick time as well as reduces the chance of a mistake. The need for a remote computer workstation is eliminated, because the operator instead picks from an SAP dialog embedded within each VLM’s HMI.

In this scenario, the ideal integration would leverage standard connectivity architecture, configured from standard protocols—including leveraging the SOAP protocol  and Hyper-Text Transfer Protocol (HTTP)—for data transfer. It would also feature:

  • Customized SAP user interface dialogs, streamlined to minimize searching and handling steps or to match specialized process flows.
  • Support of semi-automated inventory management, picking and data capture technologies (such as pick-to-light or radio-frequency scanning) for enhanced accuracy.
  • Graphical representation of inventory and its locations on each VLM tray to support faster picking and putaway by operators.

(Note: viastore recently completed an upgrade to SAP EWM for Kaeser Compressor, one of the world’s largest manufacturers and suppliers of compressed air systems, that included new connections to the facility’s 19 VLMs.)


So how can an operation ensure the selection of the right SAP integration / implementation partner to connect automation—like the VLMs discussed above—to an SAP EWM or WM deployment? Find out in our whitepaper, “Deploying SAP EWM or WM in your conventional or automated warehouse? Here’s how to get the most out of your integration.” Or, call viastore’s software integration experts at 616.977.3950.

About the Author Harouna Mohamadou

Harouna Mohamadou is Director SAP Consulting at viastore SYSTEMS, and is responsible for launching the company’s SAP consulting initiative, which will allow viastore to offer the full spectrum of supply chain execution software solutions.

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