WMS, WCS or WES… What does your business need?
Forward-thinking businesses that constantly assess how they can satisfy customer expectations for speed of delivery, along with the ability to dynamically execute order fulfilment, are turning to a new breed of software to bridge the gap that Warehouse Management Systems and Warehouse Control Systems cannot fill.
The rise of eCommerce and omni channel distribution has put massive pressure on businesses to meet increasing customer demands. With trends such as same day delivery, coupled with thin eCommerce profit margins, companies are naturally looking for ways to bring the costs of order fulfilment down, while getting them out to customers faster. It is imperative that businesses keep an active eye over the ever-evolving technology landscape, as effective and early utilisation of these solutions can prove to be a game changer.
Physical and digital automation are definitely the way forward. There is a range of enterprise level solutions that are well established and have made it to the norm in supply chain industry. However, there is a real need for continuous improvement and companies must find ways to deliver productivity increments in an agile manner, without heavily burning pockets.
In this blog we will explore established warehouse software solutions, in which the following systems are often discussed:
- Warehouse Management Systems
- Warehouse Control Systems
- Warehouse Execution Systems
Warehouse Management System
A WMS is a specialised piece of software used at distribution centre (DC) level to control the flow of inventory inside and outside of a single or multiple DCs. The main responsibilities encapsulate inventory management, accuracy, tracking and visibility.
Over the years, WMS systems have matured into a modular suite of applications that can be easily switched on/off and also provide services in areas such as Labour Management, Order Fulfilment, Transport Management Systems and Yard Management. The highly customisable nature of these software modules give flexibility for businesses to adjust business rules easily according to their needs.
Warehouse Control System
While a WMS is focussed on the bigger picture of orders and inventory management, WCS is a software much closer to execution and directs real time activities within warehouse. It provides a bridge between the WMS and automated material handling equipment such as conveyors, sorters, weigh scales, print and apply by exchanging WMS / Host system communication inputs to programmable logical controllers. Key activities include pack sort management, ship sort management and peripherals integration.
Though WMS and WCS were able to bring multitudes of efficiencies in a warehouse, the recent advancements in automation such as autonomous storage and retrieval systems, edge computing, real time cloud-based data sharing and the use of physical automation systems within the warehouse, demands that execution tasks be much better sequenced and orchestrated to extract maximum throughputs.Find out more about material flow control
For example – the traditional WMS systems have focussed on Wave based picking and packing methods where a stream of orders was released to warehouse operatives for picking and packing in a certain time frame. This solution was ideal in an old world, but ecommerce now generates a steady stream of orders and creates a use case for waveless picking, where orders can be released for picking and packing as soon as they are received. Multiple fulfilment methodologies now co-exist within same warehouse, where B2B orders or Mix Orders might be following a wave pattern-based fulfilment, while single / high priority orders might be fulfilled waveless.
These needs gave rise to a new breed of software that sits between the WCS and WMS and is called as a Warehouse Execution System or WES.
Warehouse Execution System
A WES blends the warehouse control system with some tasks that were originally handled via the warehouse management system. It receives the original workstack from a WMS or Host system and adds another layer of brainpower by intelligently releasing tasks by actively synthesizing with current work and reprioritising for optimum workflow. This is particularly useful in hybrid – part automated part manual, or fully automated high velocity environments where orders have to meet specific delivery deadlines, and the software needs to be worker centric. A WES generates dynamic workflows based on what is happening with a facility’s resources and assets at any given point in a day, thereby unlocking the full potential of automation assets. It further directs the warehouse operatives’ step by step by streamlining workflows, thereby eliminating decision points and execution errors.
When a WES solution could be useful?
- For companies reliant on legacy WMS systems, WES can be used to circumvent the performance degradations and unanticipated failures. This approach gives them a way to upgrade existing operations by plugging in best of breed solutions without doing a massive and expensive overhaul of the whole technology stack.
- For companies looking to get an edge over competition by utilising disparate data sources, WES can provide real time operations view to anticipate future opportunities and challenges. It’s an excellent way to synchronise automation assets with each other and the people who manage them. The flexibility offered by a WES goes beyond the lack of connectivity standards to interrogate multiple automation vendor systems.
Benefits of using a WES
- WES offers businesses a cost effective way to bring advanced or missing functionality that may be missing in their warehouse.
- Single point of connectivity across WMS, ERP and other host systems to warehouse physical automation assets. This can easily be extended to include data points from systems such as transport management systems.
- Utilising advance analytics and Artificial Intelligence / Machine Learning models in WES can help predict labour requirements, workflows and other variables. It can provide automated tracking of key operating variables to spot anomalies and pick on future trends.
- The collective warehouse reports generated by WES can be a great tool for internal planning. It can depict performance levels across distribution center by workflows and asset / user type (physical automation and human) to identify how and when workflow events trigger bottlenecks. Therefore, it enables process regulation and optimisation.
- A WES can plug the gap between the need of industrial workforce and human resources availability. It massively reduces the operatives training time by capturing and storing standard procedures, thereby guiding the warehouse operatives’ step by step. This eliminates the mundane repetitive decision-based tasks and even helps in workforce retention.
- Built on the narrative of continuous improvement, an off the shelf WES leaves space to easily integrate with emerging technologies and scale and speed the current operations.