Despite needing to adopt new warehouse automation software to achieve agility and resilience amid supply chain disruptions and other challenges, operators are often reluctant to do so. According to the “2022 Materials Handling Technology Study,” conducted by Peerless Research Group on behalf of Modern Materials Handling magazine, there are several reasons. These include concerns about:
- Compatibility with existing material handling equipment and systems
- Integration with existing software applications
- Ease of interface with legacy or host systems
Yet, without the optimal warehouse automation software, the ability to quickly respond and adapt to customer demands, workforce shortages, volatile inventory availability, and supply chain disruptions can prove extremely challenging, if not impossible.
The Advantages of Microservice Architecture
Given the inherent limitations of many existing software architectures, the reluctance to implement new warehouse automation software is understandable. Traditionally, the bulk of warehouse software suites has been developed for a specific hardware and static operational processes, often with a lot of manual touchpoints. These legacy platforms are typically built with a monolithic architecture—one that does not easily accommodate adoption of new automation and technology, or enable equipment upgrades, or support process and workflow automation.
That’s because monolithic software is driven by a single database, with application behaviors tightly coupled and integrated. This makes it impossible to update one aspect of a system or process without needing to redeploy the entire application database. Monoliths are therefore relatively inflexible, cumbersome, and difficult to integrate without considerable (and expensive) development and testing.
Microservice software platforms, however, are built to adapt flexibly and more reliably to updates while still enabling custom configurations for unique requirements. This has a significant positive impact on the system’s reliability, maintainability, and upgradability over the life of the product.
Utilizing domain driven design, microservice architecture enables a highly modular system with multiple, small, self-contained application sets. Each application set has a unique database and operates independently to enable individual capabilities as part of an overall workflow.
Because microservice architecture is built on individual application sets, updates or modifications made to one service do not impact the ability of other services to function. Updates can then be tested, integrated, verified, and deployed independently. This allows updates to be completed more quickly and frequently with a higher degree of overall reliability as it is applied to the production environment—this means fewer surprises.
Additionally, microservice architecture supports a more modern approach to releases with an automated CICD (continuous integration/continuous deployment) pipeline. This includes mechanisms to automate testing and identify potential issues without needing to sandbox test. If the proposed change passes the system’s own internal testing, it can reliably be promoted directly to a production environment. That can cut development cycles by as much as four weeks, enabling more frequent and faster deployment of new features and capabilities.
Ultimately, warehouse automation software built on a microservices architecture will deliver greater flexibility through the ability to seamlessly add new functionality and easily integrate with new systems and automation technologies moving forward. It also helps maintain backwards compatibility with existing host or legacy system integrations. Microservice architecture-based software can significantly reduce redundancy and inefficiency, facilitate faster upgrades for operational adaptation, and future-proof investments in new systems and technology.