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WCS vs. WMS: Complementary Warehouse Software

Differing roles and results

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sortation system

A warehouse control system (WCS) directs “real-time” activities within warehouses and distribution centers. They act as a traffic regulator for warehousing activities, with the mission of running material handling systems (and in some instances, the activities of workers). A good WCS system provides a broad, yet consistent interface for material handling systems like conveyors, carousels, palletizers, sorters, etc. On the other hand, a warehouse management system (WMS) is more focused on broader activities, people, and processes, such as shipments and orders. WMS usually doesn’t reach downstream into the automated equipment itself. A WMS is more about controlling human interactions to fulfill or receive product.

Key WMS functions

  • WMS is a business planning system – it focuses on planning the warehouse role in a business sense
  • WMS’s roles includes orders, purchase orders, inventory locations, and labor
  • WMS tends to process data outside real time to plan daily workloads
  • WMS manages manual distribution center operations
  • WMS can operate a network of multiple facilities

Essentially, WMS is ideal when you need to schedule people. It gives you a view of when product may arrive or depart. It’s in its element organizing and storing orders and similar tasks. But it’s not typically doing this in real-time, and it usually can’t control automated equipment.

Warehouse management systems do not interface with warehouse equipment. That role belongs to WCS.

Key WCS functions

  • WCS allocates, balances, manages, and monitors the functions of various material handling equipment
  • WCS tends to operate in real time
  • WCS can synchronize the work of multiple automated systems, labor, and material flow to drive decisions
  • WCS provides a uniform interface for the various automated subsystems
  • WCS tends to focus only “within the four walls” of a single facility

WCS sits in a layer that connects directly to automated equipment. It adjusts at the level of a single piece of equipment — and often through an entire facility. It can modify the behavior of AS/RS, carousels, conveyors, sortation systems, etc. It can adapt to manual processes over time.

Complementary WCS & WMS roles



Business Planning Business Execution
Direct Manual Operations Direct Automated Operations
Process data (Non-Real-Time) Utilize Real Time Data
Multiple Facilities Single Facility
Manage Expected Situations Manage Exceptions
Standardized, Rigid Functionality Modular Flexibility; Customizable

If your warehouse were a movie, the WMS is a writer, creating the script that its director, the warehouse control system, executes. Although some operations have one of these and not the other, they are most effective when integrated together for maximum impact. Of course the various systems on both sides of the WMS/WCS divide have begun to offer features that were once the territory of the other.

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Scott Stone is Cisco-Eagle's Vice President of Marketing with more than thirty years of experience in material handling, warehousing and industrial operations. His work is published in multiple industry journals an websites on a variety of warehousing topics. He writes about automation, warehousing, safety, manufacturing and other areas of concern for industrial operations and those who operate them.

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