How WCS Controls & Synchronizes Automated Equipment & Systems
Are you still managing your warehouse processes and equipment manually?
When you deploy automated equipment and systems like conveyor sortation, picking, packing, and order consolidation, you may think that getting the equipment to do its basic job is the goal. That optimal production and worker performance had been gained. There’s a digital element that you may not have considered, though – a warehouse control system.
What a warehouse control system is and isn’t
A warehouse control system (WCS) is a software package that directs equipment activity within a warehouse or distribution center. It is used to automatically run equipment within the particular performance parameters you desire in order to optimize certain operations within your facility. It may or may not be connected to a warehouse management system (WMS), but can be the bridge between equipment and the WMS.
A WCS does not control, collect or deliver product data such as purchase orders, inventory numbers or customer orders. Those functions belong in a WMS.
Why a WCS?
Warehouse control systems synchronize multiple automated equipment systems, worker flow, and materials so they converge at the right points at the right time. For example, a WCS may control the actuation of a conveyor and sortation system based on shipping data to direct cartons to different dock locations. It may direct the timing, activation, cycles, and stop of various pieces of equipment to move materials through particular operations more effectively. You get a better return on time and money spent processing materials through the facility. You also gain improve human resource management because people can be in place where they need to be when they need to be there. They are better able to use their work time effectively instead of standing around waiting for something to happen.
How does it work?
A WCS is a software package that sends messages to the various equipment sub-systems in your facility telling them when to activate, for how long, and when to stop. These messages are based on data received from a WMS or from direct input into the WCS itself. It becomes an interface between material handling data and the systems that move materials through a facility.
What kinds of equipment does it control?
If a piece of equipment can accept electronic controls, a WCS can be connected to that equipment. Typically, conveyors, palletizers, carousels, sorters, mergers and labelers can be controlled by a WCS. All it takes is integrating those pieces of equipment with the WCS so that operations can be synchronized for optimal performance.
How do I know if I need a WCS?
You need a warehouse control system if:
- Your order fulfillment process lags behind the number of incoming orders
- Your WMS is unable to keep pace with the operational needs of the facility
- Information is not automatically flowing to actuate equipment systems
- Workers are spending a lot of time traveling – not working
- SKU’s are being touched multiple times before shipping or into storage
- You’re still using paper messaging to control activities even though you have automated sub-systems
- You plan to incorporate automation into your operations to improve performance
- You have a lot of manual decision points in your material handling flow
- Product is stacked up instead of going out the door
- Shipping errors are increasing with wrong orders going to wrong locations in the wrong quantities
- You’re unable to measure & track productivity at both the individual and overall levels
Okay, I think I need a WCS. Do I?
Start with a baseline of your current operational performance. This allows you to measure progress as changes are made. Create profiles for sku’s, purchase orders, customer orders and your inventory. Understand clearly which products are performing, where orders are coming from, where they’re going to and how much stock you keep on hand. Optimize your existing automated and manual material handling flow. Assess the abilities of your WMS, if you have one. Talk to a systems integrator (like Cisco-Eagle) for associated equipment and engineering considerations. Your integrator will also be able to suggest which WCS is a good fit for your operations, as well.
Optimizing for the best ROI
You’re in business to turn a profit. A WCS can help you actualize more of the potential of your facility through synchronization of activities based on material flow and demand. It can free workers to perform important tasks they may be pushing to the side because of operational inefficiencies. It maximizes your automated sub-systems by coordinating their operation with other systems. A WCS well utilized brings more bucks to the bottom line.
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.