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Manufacturers worldwide are facing significant challenges as industries rapidly digitize and automate towards Smart Factory Industry 4.0 operations.

However, despite the proliferation of robotics and interconnected processes, many manufacturing aspects have only partially embraced Industry 4.0 initiatives.

To meet the challenges of modern manufacturing, Smart Factory solutions are becoming essential.

The urgent need for smart factory solutions

Supply chain executives across various industries must balance production runs, inventory volumes, and delivery schedules efficiently.

In pursuit of higher efficiencyreduced energy consumption, and cost optimization, manufacturers are closely evaluating their manufacturing and distribution models. Smart Factory connectivity offers an optimal solution to address these challenges.

Optimizing Small-Piece Storage and Fulfillment with Smart Factory Solutions

Lean warehousing

In today’s Smart Factory warehouse, the heart of efficient operations lies in the automated storagepicking, and fulfillment of small-piece items and finished goods. Whether it’s handling finished goods, replacement parts, retail e-commerce micro-fulfillment, tool cribs, or kitting for assembly, an automated storage and picking system for small-piece order fulfillment is essential.

Vertical lift modules (VLMs) and horizontal carousels (HCs) exemplify the ideal system for this purpose. They are capable of managing thousands of different SKUs, allowing small-piece inventory to be stored, picked, and packed within a small footprint with impressive speed and efficiency.

The unique capability of VLMs and HCs to store inventory in a compact space leads to a significant reduction in conventional inventory storage size, up to 90%. This allows facilities to save valuable floor space and concentrate operations in a smaller footprint, closer to where they are needed. As a result, the flow of operations is optimized, and the need for off-site storage can be minimized or eliminated.

The modular and scalable design of VLMs and HCs enables them to function effectively in various environments, including both high-ceiling and low-ceiling facilities with unusual configurations. These systems can easily adapt to changes in SKU counts and throughput volumes. Moreover, they can accommodate the storage of both ambient and temperature-controlled products within the range of  2°C and 25°C.

VLMs leverage the available room height, allowing items to be stored up to 16 metres high within a confined footprint, effectively maximizing the use of vertical space in the facility. On the other hand, the Modula HC is designed for use in environments with limited ceiling height.

While VLMs and HCs have already proven their effectiveness in enhancing storage and fulfillment efficiency, the latest evolution of these solutions takes things further. They now offer a higher level of integration and connectivity, fully supporting Smart Factory operations. Companies like Modula are at the forefront of manufacturing such advanced automated storage and retrieval systems.

By embracing these Smart Factory solutions, manufacturers can optimize small-piece storage and fulfillment processes, leading to increased efficiency, reduced operational costs, and improved overall productivity in their warehouses.

WMS Connectivity: Enhancing Smart Factory Operations

As the backbone of managing VLMs and HCs, a dedicated and comprehensive warehouse management system (WMS) is the most ideal solution, specifically designed for receiving, picking, and organizing small-piece fulfillment.


VLMs and HCs offer complete Ethernet connectivity with the plant WMS and house ERP. 

The Modula WMS, for instance, is a robust inventory management software specially tailored to operate VLMs and HCs while seamlessly integrating with traditional manual  in static racking.

A key feature of this WMS is its real-time integration with the facility’s host WMS via Ethernet. This ensures that the host WMS has updated information about the location of every item to be picked or refilled. The VLM and HC’s WMS interface supports various WMS, DMS, MRP, and ERP platforms, enabling faster and more accurate processes like receiving, picking, and putting away products. Additionally, the VLM and HC WMS allows the host WMS to directly monitor the VLM and HC units.

Each VLM and HC is equipped with a color touchscreen console called Copilot, connected to Modula WMS via Ethernet. This user-friendly interface simplifies operations, enabling operators to request specific items or execute orders seamlessly.

MODULA Copilot

Each VLM and HC is equipped with a color touchscreen Copilot console, connected to Modula WMS via Ethernet

The graphical visualization of the tray layout on the Copilot provides clear information about the location of desired items within the VLM or HC. It also displays all relevant information related to picking or refilling operations, such as item codes, quantities, and item notes.

The dedicated and connected WMS for small-piece inventory storage and picking with VLMs and HCs offers several inherent benefits, including:

  • Elimination of Manual Input
    By utilizing barcodes and other automated solutions with VLMs and HCs, the WMS reduces the risk of human errors associated with manual input.
  • Inventory in Racking
    Many warehouses use sophisticated MHE and WMS but still handle thousands of SKUs manually with shelving, drawers, and tool cribs. A dedicated WMS for small-piece inventory can integrate data from static shelving digitally with VLMs and HCs via Ethernet, streamlining management and reporting.
  • Insight-Driven Dashboard
    The WMS offers personalized views and real-time visibility into key performance metrics through customizable layouts, alerts, and custom reports. This empowers managers to make data-driven decisions to optimize warehouse operations.
  • Track and Trace Unique IDs
    As the need for tracking unique IDs grows, especially for high-value smaller-item products, the latest VLM and HC WMS support this requirement. They enable efficient digital management of inventory for track and trace capabilities and seamless data sharing with the host WMS and management through Ethernet connectivity.
  • Fast Installation and Connectivity
    Unlike many traditional WMS requiring lengthy installations, the latest WMS, like the Modula WMS, provides a rapid installation process. It comes with standard interfaces for seamless integration with the company’s ERP, enabling quick and secure order and inventory management via Ethernet.
    By leveraging WMS connectivity and the capabilities of VLMs and HCs, companies can significantly improve the efficiency and productivity of their Smart Factory operations, enabling them to stay competitive in today’s fast-paced manufacturing landscape.

MODULA display

Graphical display of tray layout clearly shows the operator where the desired item is located in the warehouse. 

Embracing Industry 4.0 and Smart Factory Solutions

Implementing a Smart Factory initiative is aimed at achieving the highest level of production efficiency.
To achieve this, manufacturers must develop individually tailored and comprehensive intralogistics solutions that prioritize security and flexibility, propelling them confidently into their digital future.

A critical aspect of this evolution is harnessing interconnected automation solutions across multiple distribution processes, enabling a seamless production flow. Central to this transformation is the integration of VLMs and HCs for automated small-piece fulfillment, revolutionizing the efficiency and productivity of Smart Factory operations.

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