There is confusion when to apply a WMS software solution versus a WCS which directs real-time data management and interface responsibilities of the material handling system as well as provides common user interface screens for monitoring, control, and diagnostics.
There is a place for both warehouse management systems (WMS) and warehouse control systems (WCS). Often a WCS executes instructions provided by an upper-level host system, such as an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system or a WMS system. Tier-one WCS software provides advanced management capabilities including inventory control, resource scheduling and order management. The best-of-breed WCS systems are modular in nature, easily configurable and platform independent, with a scalable architecture to satisfy the needs of any size warehouse.
The focal point for managing the operational aspects of the material handling system, WCS provides the critical link between the batch-time data host and the real-time programmable logic controller (PLC) material-handling system. The PLC coordinates the various real-time control devices to accomplish the daily workload. At each decision point in the distribution process, the WCS "determines" the most efficient routing of the product and transmits directives to the equipment controllers to achieve the desired result. The decision-making process is often controlled by two separate utilities, the sort manager and the route director.
Several Direct Selling Association (DSA) companies distribute products utilizing minimal technology in a "pick and pass" operation. This means that every tote might be manually processed through the system and pass through every pick zone. Two pick lanes might be operated which often employs a roller conveyor passing through the pick lane and Pick-to-Light picking technology. Pick-to-light is utilized in high speed/high volume environments. Light bars are situated at every pick location; they inform the warehouse personnel as to the carton identifier as well as the items to be picked, and the quantity. Interfacing with the warehouse management system (WMS) may cause concern for these high moving items, due to the fact that the orders are downloaded directly to the Pick-to-Light system and no management statistics such as order progress and pick rates are provided.
Often the conversation of WCS versus WMS arises when other inefficiencies are located in the packaging operation, such as orders picked into a tote, not into shipping cartons. This presents a challenge because when the tote is sent to the packing area, the packing operator must select the correct box for the contents, pack it, seal it, and forward it to shipping. Most companies require a system that allows for multiple carriers, where the server passes information only once per day.
Companies experiencing exponential growth are re-engineering distribution operations. Companies are implementing a third fully automated picking line which enables the output to double. Rich Hite, President of WCS firm QC Software said, "A warehouse control system communicates in real-time with the host WMS as well as the material handling hardware. It manages the entire conveyor routing process and the operational aspect of the picking and shipping (order fulfillment) functions within the distribution center. Integrated Order Management System modules ensure that each carton is not over packed based on product dimensions and weight. When the orders are downloaded the WCS, the volume and weight of the items are calculated, with a "dunnage" factor for packing materials, and suggests the proper size carton for the order. Also, if it is determined that the order is comprised of more than one carton, the system allocates SKU's to minimize the route cartons must travel and avoid multiple cartons being diverted into the same pick zones."
Warehouse control systems are not for everyone; yet as lean efficiencies are mandated many companies are looking at WCS solutions which enable them to streamline warehouse operations with a low total cost of ownership.
Thomas R. Cutler is the President & CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based, TR Cutler, Inc., (www.trcutlerinc.com). Cutler is the founder of the Manufacturing Media Consortium including more than 4000 journalists, editors, and economists writing about trends in manufacturing, industry, material handling, and process improvement. Cutler is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists, Online News Association, American Society of Business Publication Editors, and Committee of Concerned Journalists, as well as author of more than 500 feature articles annually regarding the manufacturing sector. Cutler can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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