Most warehousing operations suffering the effects of the labor shortage are, in many cases, turning to automation to help offset the issue. From robots to automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS) and everything in between, automation enhances what warehouse workers can do on the floor. As automation takes on more essential roles, so does the software needed to run it effectively. This is where warehouse control system (WCS) software comes into play.
WCS is often the middle layer between automation and a company’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) and warehouse management systems (WMS). It’s the critical piece to facilitate direct communications with all the new automation on the floor. WCS bridges the gap in areas where WMS and ERP systems might fall short.
An ERP system is the big-picture business operations piece of the equation. While optimal for high-level decision-making for accounting, finance, and inventory levels, it’s too far removed from the day-to-day operations of a warehouse. This is especially true when it comes to operating automation.
Likewise, a WMS has a crucial role in your operations but often sits too far above the actual control of your automation. A WMS will ensure proper flow from one end of the warehouse to the other and can tend to all the details necessary to accomplish that. But a WMS can use the assistance of WCS to get the most out of equipment.
Most pieces of equipment you purchase for your warehouse will come with their own WCS, provided by the manufacturer of that automation. Conveyors, ASRS, sortation, AGVs, and others tend to fit this bill and require WCS. A WCS helps your operations make decisions at the device level. A WCS can communicate with and direct the programmable logic controllers on the equipment.
It also communicates with your WMS, allowing it to better oversee how the automation fits into the big picture. As a warehouse manager, you must determine how your WCS and WMS will operate together. If you have just one piece of automation—an ASRS—you are probably just fine with that one WCS feeding into your WMS. However, things get a bit complex if you’re a large-scale facility with multiple types of equipment from multiple vendors. You probably don’t want ten different WCS instances feeding into your one WMS.
In these cases, the solution is to mimic what the big e-commerce operations do. That means having one WCS that fits between all your devices and your WMS and ERP. This drastically cuts down on the complexity and allows for a more seamless transfer of information between systems. Your goal is to achieve harmony between solutions.
As consumer demands for fast delivery experience unrelenting growth, so will the need for more and better automation. WCS will continue to assume greater responsibility, playing a critical role in operations.
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