Warehouse control systems (WCS) comprise one aspect of the management solution ecosystem that warehouses and material handling businesses rely on. With the logistical complexities and sophisticated equipment leveraged by the logistics and transportation industry, comprehensive management platforms have become increasingly necessary.
The industry is so complex, in fact, that these platforms often have specific aspects they help operate—leading to the implementation of multiple, integrated solutions. WCS solutions predominately manage the machines, robots, and other automated or semi-automated equipment used to facilitate material and package throughflow.
In this article, we’ll dive further into WCS solutions and cover some differences between complementary platforms.
What Is a Warehouse Control System?
A warehouse control system (WCS) generally manages automated warehouse and material handling machines. This includes equipment like:
- Stationary robots
- Automated guided vehicles (AGVs)
- Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs)
- Sorting and scanning machines
Although some WCS solutions may facilitate worker assignments, scheduling, and other people-related oversight, they primarily manage machines and robots.
As a result, their focus is typically limited to activities occurring within your own facilities and depends on real-time control and data collection and analysis. A full-fledged WCS solution should also help with machine and robot scheduling capabilities and tracking warehouse space for efficient storage configurations.
Depending on the WCS solution you implement, there may be some functionality crossover with warehouse management systems (WMS).
What Is the Difference Between WMS and WCS?
So what is a warehouse management system? WMS solutions tend to have a broader, organization-wide focus on people and processes. Their focus is largely internalized to your operations. However, many will provide functionality that overlaps with in- and outflow shipment and inventory management responsibilities overseen by transportation management systems (TMS).
In contrast, a WCS is almost exclusively focused on internal operations and, more specifically, on automated or semi-automated machines and robots.
However, as mentioned above, there may be some amount of functionality and management overlap between:
This is why you should regard your collective implementations as a warehouse management ecosystem. The priority is less about checking three boxes—one for each solution—and more about ensuring all of the necessary functionality you need is available within that ecosystem.
For example, implementing robust WCS and TMS solutions may reduce the need for a comprehensive WMS. Similarly, a fully-fledged WMS software may allow you to implement a WCS and a TMS solution with much narrower applicability.
How Does a WCS Work?
Warehouse control system software aggregates the relevant machine and equipment operational data in real time. This enables management personnel to control throughflow warehouse processes and equipment resources (from the same WCS).
A WCS will:
- Integrate with your WMS to provide the solution with more decision- and warehouse automation-driving data
- Centralize all machine and equipment management functionality
- Incorporate algorithms and real-time data to balance queued tasks across machines and equipment, ensuring efficient completion. (For example, ensuring a given process isn’t overly utilizing machine A while machine B goes underutilized)
- Compile insightful reports utilizing collected data
With a WCS, each machine, robot, or piece of equipment no longer has to be managed individually—simplifying the warehouse operation process and maximizing efficiencies.
AI and Machine Learning Considerations
If your warehouse and material handling company has begun or plans to implement AMRs, you’ll need to pair them with a WCS capable of utilizing artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.
AMRs represent the next generation of logistics and fulfillment technologies, performing storage, “picking” (i.e., retrieval), and in-facility transportation tasks. The current market size is valued at $1.6 billion, and forecasts anticipate growth will reach $22.15 billion by 2030—a compound annual growth rate of 34.3%.1
However, they rely on AI systems to make decisions like which items to pick and in what order, and when to return to charging stations. Accordingly, they require a significant investment in specialized technology and personnel such as AI specialists and data engineers.
Alternatively, you may need to consider a separate platform for these purposes if your WCS can’t facilitate the ongoing computational demand and big data storage necessary for their operation.
What Are the Benefits of a Warehouse Control System?
As with comparable logistics management solutions, the two primary benefits of a WCS include:
- Streamlining management through automation systems and the elimination of manual tasks
- Providing insight and forecasting from in-depth data analysis
On the other hand, operating without a WCS and relying on manual efforts can significantly increase the management burden your personnel face.
In such a fast-paced environment where shipping times can make or break your services and reputation, achieving maximum efficiencies is paramount. Furthermore, automated or semi-automated management can reclaim significant bandwidth, enabling your people to focus on more impactful tasks that might end up at the bottom of their to-do list otherwise.
Plus, without data-driven insight, you’re managing operations in the dark—basing your decisions on circumstances you presume are true.
Instead, a WCS will compile and analyze data to give you an accurate and full understanding of your operations, allowing you to identify where inefficiencies keep popping up. They help you optimize machine and equipment usage, achieving new efficiencies that can increase revenue.
Shipware: An Essential Part of Your Warehouse and Shipping Management Ecosystem
Want to learn more about how a warehouse control or warehouse management system can benefit your business? At Shipware, we help your logistics business grow through intelligent and innovative shipping solutions and strategies. Our products and services include solutions like parcel and less than truckload (LTL) invoice audits, modal optimization, and contract negotiations.
Although we don’t provide our own WCS, our extensive partnership network can help connect you with the best warehouse control solution for your operations.
Reach out today to learn more about what we and our partner network can help you achieve when it comes to warehouse operation and automation systems.
- Next Move Strategy Consulting. Autonomous Mobile Robot Market by Type, by Application, by End-User – Global Opportunity Analysis and Industry Forecast 2022-2030. https://www.reportlinker.com/p06272286/Autonomous-Mobile-Robot-Market-by-Type-by-Application-by-End-User-Global-Opportunity-Analysis-and-Industry-Forecast.html?utm_source=GNW