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Join us at Modex 2024!

Join us at Modex 2024!

March 11th-14th, 2024,

Georgia World Congress Center, Atlanta, GA. 

Come see us at booth B5011. We’d love to talk with you about warehouse productivity, operational performance and accuracy, lowering labor costs, and more.

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Ready to see how Ascent’s warehouse automation software can help you improve efficiency and attain operational accuracies of 99.5% or better? Contact us now!

About Ascent Warehouse Logistics

Ascent Warehouse Logistics creates and implements automated warehouse solutions. Ascent upgrades warehouse performance by reviewing current baselines, identifying and quantifying areas of concern, and proposing cost effective solutions. By leveraging the expertise of both Intek and Minerva Associates, Ascent Warehouse Logistics delivers comprehensive software and hardware material handling solutions and automation.

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Blog Warehouse Management System

Increasing Supply Chain Agility With WMS -A Guide for the C Suite

Increasing Supply Chain Agility with WMS: A Guide for the C-Suite

In today’s fast-paced business world, supply chain agility and resilience have become more important than ever. To stay competitive, businesses need to optimize their operations and minimize costs, while also ensuring their customers receive the best possible service. Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) have emerged as a key tool for achieving these goals. By automating and streamlining warehouse processes, WMS solutions can increase efficiency, accuracy, and visibility across the supply chain.

But how do you convince the C-suite to invest in a WMS solution? That’s where our latest episode of the MHI Industry Leadership Podcast comes in. Our guests, Phil Hawbaker and Stan McLean from the MHI Solutions Community, share their insights on how to make a compelling business case for WMS to the C-suite. They discuss the benefits of implementing a WMS, including increased efficiency and accuracy, and offer strategies for calculating ROI and demonstrating the long-term value of a WMS investment.

Whether you’re a business owner, a supply chain professional, or simply curious about the latest trends and innovations in the industry, this episode is a must-listen. Tune in to the MHI Industry Leadership Podcast and learn how WMS solutions can help your organization thrive in today’s dynamic business environment.

Warehouse Management System

Warehouse Integration and Automation Decisions

Warehouse Integration and Automation Decisions

Those tasked with preparing for the future of automation don’t have an easy path in front of them. Nevertheless, the innovation that developing robotic machines produce can be exciting. There are opportunities to grow and streamline many types of businesses. With streamlined control, disparate software challenges and maintenance hassles can fade away.

Selecting Vendors

One of the best decisions a material environment can make is choosing vendors with the proper knowledge and perspective. In selecting vendors, it is important to try to choose ones who have a proactive, big-picture view. The temptation is to choose vendors whose expertise is deep in one area. Expertise about one piece of machinery, or a line of machines, can feel extremely valuable. However, this is often a short-term solution that provides limited long-term value. Expertise with the controls of only one line of machines fails to assist much in a long-term strategy.

Vendors with Long-Term Foresight

Failing to choose vendors who hold an eagle-eye view of logistics, warehouses, and the drift toward automation and robotics has consequences. Without foresight, a COO can end up trying to reassess and renovate their software and machinery situation every few years. Expanding possibilities for robotic integration should be the priority.

Having a ten or fifteen-year perspective and level of proactivity saves effort. A long-term decision is to value and implement an agnostic software solution. A comprehensive WCS can ensure a business is not limited by past investments to old machinery and the associated software. Old software that is unlinked will hold back the possibilities for streamlining and automation. Warehouse operations, distribution centers, and large corporations with warehouses that plan for the future will reap the benefits.

Selecting Groups Who Understand Business Strategy and Technology

In business, having great vision and a clear direction are invaluable skills. Warehousing and logistics are no different. On a large and small scale, focusing on growth and optimization is invaluable. When each item, package, or pallet flows toward its ultimate destination sooner, the streams of small actions add up.

To help create a current of efficiency, vendors who speak the languages of logistics, technology and business make the best partners. When a vendor understands overall operations, the need to constantly explain dissipates. Operators won’t need to brainstorm workarounds resulting from vendors’ lack of understanding. Cobbling together solutions isn’t necessary. Solutions providers who think long-term and are already acquainted with your pain points help operators develop and execute a strategy for proactive, long-term success with fewer adjustments.

Selecting Appropriate Machinery

Choose machinery with the future in mind. For each specific task, the appropriate, best-fit machine makes a world of difference. If an AS/RS serves the objectives better, settling for three carousels is not worthwhile. Creating a future-focused plan hospitable to robotics, and prioritizing machinery that fits within that plan, can pay off.

The Utility of Robotics

One area where robotic solutions are advancing rapidly is for clearly defined tasks. Having robots complete simple, discrete tasks can be wise. The machines ceding tasks to robotic machines at present are conveyors. While conveyors bolted to the floor provide limited movement of goods, agile robots will prove useful for movement-based tasks. It is easy to imagine that by using sensors, they become capable of more efficient movement. By multiplying this agility beyond the limited movement of conveyors, much more efficiency becomes possible.

Robotics OEM Software

Robotics machines are usually packaged with OEM software. This OEM-supply WCS is limited in many cases. Integrating them into a broad software solution in warehouses on a wider scale can be challenging, yet may produce  quality results.

AMR Robots

Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) used for transportation have proven to be a great addition to an overall solution for warehouses. They can work with automated storage devices. However, they’re not capable of interfacing to the certain carousels. Two separate WCSs create unneeded steps and clutter in terms of the volume of software needed. The need to manage and maintain that software piles on extra layers of complexity.

The Evolution of Robotics and WCS

As robotics progress beyond AMRs to those capable of more complex tasks, using one comprehensive warehouse control system software will become increasingly important. Presently, robots completing discrete actions or traveling between points don’t need to communicate with other machines often. As the possibilities for robotics develop, an OEM WCS’s limits would become apparent. For example, the possibility of gamifying the warehouse with augmented reality could make warehouse operations more efficient. The control system from a robotics or carousel manufacturer can’t be expected to control the interface to the user. An agnostic, high-level WCS would shine in managing more developed robotics, along with more classic machines like carousels.

OEM WCS Database Concerns

The prohibitive nature of OEM warehouse control systems not having a robust database is a concern. That is especially the case when trying to plan a road map for warehousing or distribution. Typically, the limited database of OEM software will slow down the progression toward the business’s goals in the future. Avoiding decisions or maintenance of systems that will not scale with discrete should be a priority. In fact, by not controlling the machines from a high, informed level and letting them work together, the business is not maximizing its investment in the machines. Nor is software providing a good return on the investment. By controlling through a higher level, more informed warehouse control system software, unprecedented cohesion becomes possible.

A Proactive Modular WCS Software Roadmap

Taking a bird’s eye, long-term view for ten years is key to making the correct decisions for warehouse control system software. Synchronizing the road map between vendors and other partners will help the business advance toward its goals. Crafting an automation roadmap with scalable software that is financially modular is the best option. A comprehensive WCS designed to be modular and priced according to the currently needed modules can make the difference. As needs change, scaling up within the next month should be possible. Growing with modules of software is easier than adapting to new software packages.

Warehouse Control System Software for the Future

The future of robotic integration into the material-handling world is exciting. With foresight and a well-formulated strategy for software and machinery cohesion, efficiency can soar. High-level warehouse control system software can propel businesses further. Businesses relying on many separate WCSs that came with the machinery will need to keep maintaining them. They’ll need to keep dealing with their limitations and the inefficiency of a disjointed web of disparate software. Meanwhile, those using a streamlined WCS solution will do more with less software. They can push warehouse operations further, faster.

Warehouse Management System

Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) vs Warehouse Control System (WCS)

Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) vs Warehouse Control System (WCS)

Some of the abilities of a programmable logic controller are similar to those of a warehouse control system software. However, they are too limited in volume of commands. Lacking a database, a PLC can only be directed for a limited number of actions. Meanwhile, a centralized WCS can feed information to devices more slowly, on a time-dependent basis. A PLC cannot meter commands like a WCS. It cannot store many commands because the database is too small.

A centralized WCS has more human-like intelligence that can orchestrate different machines simultaneously throughout a daily cycle by gathering and metering more real-time information. A WCS has this capacity due to its database size.

Combining WMS, WES and WCS

With a centralized, agnostic warehouse control system software, the need for separate WMS and WES lessens. Warehouse stock control software can be an involved task to implement. The best solution is a comprehensive package. A business can buy a package performing all three functions. Better yet, it can be a modular package. Components could be added as new needs arise. A modular WCS would be suited to the diverse needs of a distribution environment, a manufacturing environment or a corporation’s warehouse. Beyond being adaptable to the type of center, a modular WCS can scale as the business develops.

With modular options, the software expenditure can become commensurate with business needs. Why should a company pay for a comprehensive software solution when it only uses 70% of it? That vendor is over-solving their client’s software problems and needs. In effect, they are charging for unused functionality.

New ERP or ERP Expansion Considerations

When weighing options for improving control and leverage over automated equipment, many people consider ERP-based options. They think the best route would be to start moving into unused portions of their existing ERP. Many operators believe their existing ERP has additional functionality for automation that could be useful or consider upgrading it. However, an ERP is often lacking in quality warehouse control system software.

A simple WCS connected to an ERP may produce narrow results. When a WMS  is involved with the ERP, the information delivered is broader. It’s not limited by what is stored in that device.

Warehouse Control System Software Data Flow

The flow of data and commands between warehouse control system software to different locations varies depending on the type of connection. When it flows down to a device, time is a priority. Meanwhile, when interfacing to an ERP, time is not of the essence.

Data Between a WCS and a Device

An advantage of warehouse control system software sending a command to a device is that a response can return immediately. The device can quickly affirm when it will complete the task. This can happen on the scale of a millisecond. It happens in real time, using a web service, a web API or a TCP/IP interface. Faster response times keep many types of actions moving forward in a distribution center or warehouse. Databases don’t allow for a real-time interface.

Data Between a WCS and an ERP

When interfacing to an ERP, real-time interactions are not a priority. An ERP system doesn’t care when the designated action occurs. It could take place in the next 30 seconds or five minutes later. When a WCS interfaces to a device, time is a priority. The result is that a WCS provides the level of necessary responsiveness. An ERP isn’t as sensitive to time.

Cloud or Local Warehouse Control System Software

It’s important to consider whether warehouse control system software or its components should reside in the cloud. Guaranteeing responsiveness is a vital part of location considerations. Those with experience in WCS operations warn of the challenges of securing real-time interface to that piece of machinery. There are instances when dark fiber can guarantee a high level of response. In that case, a WCS that resides in the cloud can work well. However, guaranteeing real-time response with cloud-hosted databases remains a major challenge for a lot of companies.

In many cases, some components end up being housed in the cloud, while others remain local. This hybrid situation can keep operations running smoothly. Components that do not depend on a sensitive, millisecond response time can be stored in the cloud. Meanwhile, on-premises machinery interfaces can better guarantee the faster travel of information. Speed is the key.

Warehouse Management System

Robotics and Warehouse Control System Software

Robotics and Warehouse Control System Software

Warehouse control system software can automate and command devices and machinery in innovative ways. As robotics advance, moving toward a more cohesive control structure can yield streamlined, efficient results. Machines controlled by a comprehensive (WCS) warehouse control system include storage devices like an automated storage and retrieval system. Vertical lift modules and similar machines could also be operated by a WCS. Many other devices in warehouse and distribution center environments can be automated and optimized by warehouse control system software.

A comprehensive WCS can not only control the machines’ function but operate in real time. The real-time capacity of broad warehouse control systems offers more sensitivity to current warehouse needs. With real-time information, each decision can be made from a more informed standpoint. The result for a warehouse with WCS is better, faster decisions. The ultimate outcome of more informed commands and actions is getting material where it needs to go faster.

Automated Equipment Software

A comprehensive WCS, (warehouse control system) can interface with many types of machinery. These include vertical or horizontal carousels. It also interfaces with conveyor systems and sortation systems. Pick-to-light and put-to-light systems that give order pickers clear instructions can also be controlled by a WCS. As automation and robotics evolve, a high-level WCS can reduce disjointed situations in warehouses. Many types of machines, including robotic ones, can be controlled to work in harmony.

Warehouse Control System (WCS)

A machine in a warehouse needs commands to operate. Of course, in the past, a human would direct the machine. Control through a WCS provides an opportunity to remove human labor resources. This solution can combat labor shortages and scheduling difficulties. A WCS can manage and automate the activities of a machine. The person or the few people controlling a broad WCS have more leverage over the machines operating in a warehouse or distribution center.

WMS and ERP Software Interface

A WCS can talk to other business systems. Enterprise research planning (ERP) software like Oracle can interface with it. A WCS can communicate with a warehouse management system (WMS) that helps with the flow of inventory and goods. Typically, it lives in the middle of the architecture. It communicates at different speeds to different partner software and controls like warehouse inventory control system software.

Warehouse Control System Software Database Advantages

One advantage of comprehensive warehouse control software is the options provided by the database. Machine controls can’t usually handle large databases. A WCS offers the functionality to connect with a database. It can also integrate data from an ERP system and parses the data into simpler commands the controls can digest.

From the central location in the architecture, the WCS controls the equipment. Since it can process real-time data, its commands flow from the warehouse’s overall needs at that moment. The tasks are carried out by the machines within an optimized timeframe and with optimized speed. The reduced interval of time from task creation to successful task completion is crucial. Real-time data and faster execution make a big difference.

OEM WCS Automation

Automation equipment is frequently packaged with a warehouse control system. Although the equipment has controls, they are situated at too low of a level. They only operate that individual machine. For example, a vertical lift module’s WCS may not talk to a carousel’s WCS. Warehouse operators are not getting much more leverage over the machines. A centralized WCS can optimize, connect, and process more systems. It is agnostic, meaning it can control many different machines.

A WCS can sometimes integrate to an ERP. However, in most cases, there are massive differences in coding structures. Integration isn’t practical, and it’s not often worth the effort of integration.

OEM WCS Isolation

The scope of warehouse control system software applications can vary widely. Some arrive with and solely work with the machinery, while others can control any type of machinery. A vertical lift module with a WCS from a manufacturer cannot communicate with a vertical carousel’s distinct WCS. The result is two islands of non-communicative software. A high-level WCS could control both. It synthesizes operations in a warehouse or distribution center.

When improved streamlining and coordination is feasible, it provides a higher return on investment. It’s more feasible to benefit from investments in machinery, software and personnel. The expertise of operators stays shallower when there are many software packages. Employees working in fewer warehouse control systems have more time and incentive to learn and remember details and quirks.

Warehouse Management System

The Key Factors to Consider Before Implementing Robots in Your Warehouse

The Key Factors to Consider Before Implementing Robots in Your Warehouse

Warehouse robots are increasingly essential in retail, distribution, and manufacturing environments. For years now, robots have been used for single, discreet warehouse tasks. Today, however, robots are being implemented for more and more complex warehouse operations. This increased demand is being driven by multiple factors, including accelerating e-commerce growth, pressure from consumers for faster turnaround on orders, and growing competition for labor.  

Could warehouse robots improve your operations and overall performance? Do you know which warehouse automation solutions are optimal for your business?

Here are the key factors to consider before adding robots to your warehouse:

Warehouse robots come in a variety of types, with different capabilities and features

When it comes to warehouse control systems, robots are just another form of automation. That means you are likely already familiar with some types of warehouse robots, while others may be completely new to you. It is important to understand how warehouse automation has evolved and the wide array of features and capabilities now available.

 Types of warehouse automation

  • Goods-to-person (GTP) solutions utilize an operator based in a centralized location, and the goods move to the operator, rather than the operator moving to the goods. The term “goods-to-person” applies whether the goods are moved by an autonomous robot or some other form of warehouse automation such as a vertical or horizontal carousel or a vertical lift module (VLM). With a true goods-to-person solution, the product picked is a single item or handful of items from a larger inventory stored within that automated media.
  • Shuttle systems deliver product without using an operator. For example, a shuttle system or a rail crane can pick up full pallets of product from a high-density pallet storage solution. The product is retrieved and then staged or conveyed through a conveyor system for delivery to the next part of the process such as pick-to-light or a put-wall that is downstream of the storage solution.

Both GTP and shuttle systems can involve machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities. This technology now ranges from simple software and autonomous functionality to much more advanced systems with complex sensors and sophisticated predictive analytics.

For example, autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) are gaining traction across a range of distribution environments. Simple AMRs can be programmed and implemented quickly, without a lot of overhead, to accomplish repetitive tasks, such as moving product from one location to another.

Articulating pick robots are also becoming more popular. These robots have the intelligence to discern among mixed products in a single bin, cart, or tote. An articulating pick robot is smart enough to recognize a wanted item, find it, and then move its arm to pick the item. Some can even distinguish damaged items and reject them. When equipped with machine learning, these robots learn about the product base and how best to fulfill orders, and they improve over time.  

Understanding the scope of features and capabilities currently available can help you find the warehouse automation solution that will be most useful in your warehouse.

Determining the “why” is critical

 It is crucial to identify the specific role robots will play in improving the operation of your facility. Generally speaking, the top reasons companies opt for warehouse automation are to:

  • Optimize the footprint of a warehouse facility. Storing and moving items more efficiently makes the most of existing space.
  • Improve pick rates without additional labor. The right solution enhances the performance of the current workforce.
  • Improve the customer experience. Increasing pick rate and accuracy means customers get their orders fulfilled faster and without error.
  • Modernize and automate. Eventually, legacy warehouse systems need to be replaced, especially when maintenance and repair budgets become excessive.

Calculating the ROI of warehouse robots

While evaluating options, be sure to calculate the return on investment (ROI) of different warehouse automation types. First, identify warehouse operations that involve demonstrable, repetitive tasks and determine the hard costs associated them. Then, compare that to the cost of buying or leasing a robot that could assume those responsibilities.

For instance, simple time-and-motion studies of warehouse associates have found 60% of their time is spent walking. Buying or leasing AMRs or other type of warehouse robot can dramatically reduce or eliminate that walking time and result in significant labor cost savings. Warehouse robots can also help businesses adjust to peak season surges and dips.

Robots must be integrated with warehouse processes

To be effective, warehouse robots must be integrated with other warehouse processes. Remember: Warehouse automation is not meant to function as standalone technology. Instead, it needs to be connected to other automation and warehouse processes.

Working with an experienced warehouse automation provider will help you avoid creating islands of robot technology. That’s why it is so important to look for a warehouse robot vendor that can combine warehouse management (WMS), warehouse execution (WES), and warehouse control systems (WCS) into a single package.

 The goal is to improve warehouse productivity using technologies that can blend with your current warehouse operations. Ultimately, that solution could involve AMRs, an automated storage conveyance system, pick by light, or another type of warehouse robot. The right vendor will deliver a complete solution that seamlessly integrates today’s automation technology to optimize results.

Blog News

Introducing Ascent Warehouse Logistics: Our new company

Introducing Ascent Warehouse Logistics: Our new company

Intek and Minerva Associates, SencorpWhite businesses, today announced that they have completed their merger, resulting in the creation of a more comprehensive warehouse automation solutions company. The new company will have a corporate name of Ascent Warehouse Logistics. This merger solidifies their commitment to providing high performance software solutions for the warehousing and distribution sector. Ascent Warehouse Logistics begins day one with more than sixty years of combined warehouse automation expertise.  

“I am delighted to announce the completion of this exciting merger between our two warehouse automation software companies, Intek and Minerva Associates,” said Corey E. Calla, CEO of SencorpWhite. “With this merger, we will be able to provide tremendous value to both new and existing customers by combining the expertise of two well versed software groups.” 

“Each of our solution stacks and expertise are uniquely positioned to rapidly innovate and bring to market high-quality solutions configured unique market changes. Our focus on providing excellent service to our customers will continue and software users can be assured that there will be no disruption to current packages. The completion of this merger will also eliminate any confusion in the marketplace,” said Martin Mclean, President of Ascent Warehouse Logistics. 

About Ascent Warehouse Logistics 
Ascent Warehouse Logistics designs, develops, and implements warehouse automation solutions. Our team of experts combines industry-leading software and business practices to improve order/inventory accuracy and overall productivity while reducing dependence on labor. By leveraging the expertise of two highly successful material handling solution providers, Intek and Minerva Associates, Ascent Warehouse Logistics delivers comprehensive software best suited for the customer’s operation in manufacturing and distribution. Ascent controls automated material handling hardware, picking automation technologies, ASRS, and emerging robotics technologies to fit each client’s needs. Ascent warehouse automation software combines WMS/MES/WCS/WES solutions for delivering Tier 1 warehouse performance to bridge the operational performance gap at a mid-market price point to deliver exceptional ROI and low long-term total cost of ownership. 

About SencorpWhite 
SencorpWhite is an industry-leading designer and manufacturer of intelligent storage systems, thermoformers, sealing machines, and warehouse management software. We offer standard and comprehensive solutions for progressive clients by leveraging its in-house engineering, design and manufacturing capabilities, on-site maintenance, and service with field service engineers located throughout the United States. 

WMS WCS Integrations

Consider Long-Term Business Objectives and Trends When Implementing A WMS Or WCS

Why it’s critical to consider long-term business objectives and trends when implementing a WMS or WCS

It is a mistake to build a WMS or WCS based solely on current product mixes and order velocities. Instead, be sure to consider long-term objectives, as well as industry trends. Heed this cautionary tale: In the past, many distribution centers built their systems to exclusively convey cases.

Now, they are struggling with ‘eaches’ due to e-commerce shifts. Ultimately, the best WMS/WCS design is one that allows the business to adapt to changes and variability within supply chains.

How do WMS/WCS solve for inventory management on a job or project basis?

Inventory management on a project basis is a matter of inventory ownership. Even if most inventory is tied to a specific job or a specific project, there is almost always some inventory that is used in common. This common stock is usually low-valued items such as nuts, bolts, and washers. Even so, it needs to be included in the conversation about integrating a WMS or WCS with an ERP.

What is a typical timeline for an integration to a WMS?

Timelines for WMS integration projects vary. A good ballpark estimate is two to three months from the start of the project cycle to being able to test the integration in a test environment. Three elements are required to begin the project cycle: an understanding of the various roles of the systems being integrated, defined touch points, and defined functionality. Once those three elements are place, it is possible to define the error conditions and how to automatically recover from them. All of this is part of the design effort. Ultimately, the design needs to be put into a test environment, so that the error conditions can be tested to make sure both sides recover. Testing like that takes additional time, but it is worth it in the long run.

Where can we find information about specific WMS/WCS integrations to VLMs or other hardware?

For more information about specific WMS/WCS integrations to VLMs or other hardware, reach out to the hardware manufacturer. Every manufacturer has their own interface, message formats, and other details specific to that interface. Talk to the manufacturer to ensure your integration proceeds as effectively and efficiently as possible.

WMS WCS Integrations

How to Succeed Integrating A WMS Or WCS With An ERP

How to Succeed Integrating A WMS Or WCS With An ERP

Successful integration of a WMS or WCS with an ERP requires knowledge of the process flow and data flow within the operation. Then, it is necessary to identify and understand where the pain points occur. Every warehouse or distribution center has unique challenges. For example, some customize their ERPs to control allocation of inventory.

They might prefer to spread inventory across multiple orders, portioning some to every customer instead of applying an entire shortage to one account. For an ERP to dictate inventory allocation like this it must be integrated with a WMS/WCS so that the information can be shared efficiently and effectively. The ERP needs to tell the Warehouse Management System (WMS)/ Warehouse Control System (WCS) what lot to allocate and pick and pack, and not only the quantity ordered, but also the distribution of that quantity across all of the orders. Understanding the unique role of each component—the ERP, WMS, and WCS—is vital. For instance, if an ERP is the system of record, the integrity of that system must be maintained.

What are the functional requirements that need to be defined with an ERP?

When integrating a Warehouse Management System (WMS) with an ERP, the functional requirements that need to be defined include any touch points between the two systems. These typically include the part master, receipts, orders, and uploads (put-away, pick/pack/ship, adjustments). Note: It is essential to identify the touch points in both directions—from the WMS upstream to the ERP, and from the WMS going downstream to the WMC or other peripherals. For example, if an ERP is the system of record for part number information, no downstream systems should be permitted to edit or create new part numbers. This is a best practice and ensures that the part number and part profile information are maintained in one system, the ERP.

In most cases, an ERP is also the system of record for procurement and order management and order entry. This receipt information is another touch point from ERP to a WMS or WCS. It is “inbound information” about inventory coming into the facility. There is also “outbound information,” which includes sales orders, production orders, and transfer orders, that require the system in a distribution center to pick the inventory and pack/ship it, or in a manufacturing facility, pick the inventory out of the stockroom and deliver it to assembly or the manufacturing floor.

Another important functional requirement to consider is inventory adjustment and deciding which system is the system of record for inventory is key. Some ERP systems can instruct a WMS or WCS to decrement inventory; however, it is more common for the WMS and WCS to be the system of record of where inventory is stored. The ERP system has the aggregate quantity on hand, but the WMS/WCS tracks the inventory at discrete locations and is best-suited for cycle counting, inventory counting, or physical counts.

What are the mechanics of integrating a WMS with ERP?

The basic mechanics of integrating a WMS with an ERP usually include staging tables, webservice, flat files, and other specific methods of integration depending on the ERP (e.g., RFC in SAP or message queues in other systems).

The term “staging tables” refers to database tables that are shared between an ERP and a WMS or WCS. These tables are either in the ERP database or the WMS or WCS database. They are called staging tables because they are not internal tables that the systems would use to process their own business logic and perform their own functions. Imagine a wall between these staging tables and the rest of the respective system. This imaginary wall, which is actually a gatekeeper requiring validation, ensures that a WMS cannot, for instance, directly update data in an ERP table. Likewise, an ERP cannot directly update data in a WMS table. Instead, all updates require a set of staging tables to protect both sides.

Integrating a WMS with an ERP often also requires webservices and flat files. The webservices needed are real-time and implementing them requires a special IT skill set. The flat file data can be in XML format so that it can easily be used in EBI transactions. Having lower-level systems that can create flat files in XML format can be a significant time-saver.

All of these methods of integration depend on the particular ERP being used. For example, most ERPs use remote function calls (RFC) for messaging, but others have their own unique message cues that must be adopted. Even so, the communication piece of integrating a WMS is fairly straightforward. The goal is that once a messages is sent by one system, the other system responds within the timeframe expected and all functions run according to spec.

Of course, not everything runs according to plan 100% of the time. This is especially true in distribution and manufacturing environments where tasks and processes are fast paced with many dependencies. Often, when one process doesn’t work perfectly, there is a domino effect. That is why, as part of the design phase of an integration, it is crucial to consider what could go wrong. In fact, working on error detection and recovery is a key part to any integration effort and usually, more time is spent designing the what-if scenarios than the actual touch points. This time and effort are worthwhile in the long run. Being able to detect and recover from errors in any integration can make the difference between a successful project with happy users and one where the users don’t want to even talk about their experience.

Integrating a WCS to an ERP or WMS

A WCS is a warehouse control system, and it can be integrated to an ERP, a WMS, or directly to material handling equipment, such as a VLM, a carousel, or an ASRS. There are some WCS systems that use a standard application programmable interface (API). These systems offer little flexibility in terms of integration and are not as complex as an interface to an ERP might be. In most cases, the WCS integration can be done with direct device control. That means, instead of communicating at a high level to another application, the integration can occur directly to material handling equipment. But since every equipment manufacturer has their own proprietary interface, it is critical to work with the equipment manufacturer to ensure understanding of the entire architecture.

Often the WCS is integrated to control inventory within these devices. For instance, in a vertical carousel, a WCS could manage each bin location, keeping track of what and how many is stored in each of those locations. An ERP is not well-suited for this type of inventory management. A WCS, by contrast, can communicate to the device so that the needed items are brought to the operator, but the WCS can only manage the inventory within that device.

What about inventory that isn’t stored in a device managed by a WCS? This is where the integration between a WCS or WMS and ERP comes into play. Without integration, a WCS or WMS could be managing movement of inventory in certain locations, while the ERP is managing aggregate inventory, without any knowledge of where that inventory exists in real-time. Integration solves that problem by ensuring all of these components work together to optimize workflows and processes.

What Additional Factors May Come into Play When Integrating A WMS Or WCS?

When integrating a WMS or WCS, it is also important to consider additional factors such as replenishment, slotting, and shelf life. In most cases, the replenishment transaction originates within ERP, and then the information is sent from ERP to the WCS. That way, the WCS learns that the inventory is coming and can find the right location to store it. Slotting involves using the WCS or WMS to determine optimal locations to store inventory. The main elements that factor into slotting are capacity, velocity, and dimension. Capacity refers to the number of items that need to be stored. Velocity refers to how long the item is expected to stay in storage. (Items that are picked and shipped quickly should be stored in the most easily-accessible location.) Dimension refers to the dimension of the item being stored, as well as the dimension of the location that’s available to store that item. Shelf life and whether FIFO is a requirement can also factor impact WMS/WCS integrations.

Integrating a WMS or WCS with peripherals

Peripherals are pieces of hardware that are used in the process flow of a distribution center or warehouse. Examples of peripherals include print-and-apply machines, barcode printers, weigh scales, X-ray machines, and devices used for reeled inventory in SMT shops. Each one of these peripherals generally has its own interface. So before integrating a WMS or WCS, it is essential to contact the OEM manufacturer or at least refer to the interface manual to ensure that the proper integration steps are followed. These devices use either a serial connection, an RF232, or a network connection. In today’s warehouse environments, most peripherals are networked; however, there are still some devices that only support serial connections. That is why it is important to know which interface is available and to order the proper equipment and associated kits to support that interface.

WMS WCS Integrations

What Are the Main Considerations for Implementing A WMS?

What Are the Main Considerations for Implementing A WMS?

Before implementing a WMS, it is critical to consider a few key factors. Most notably, a WMS must be thoughtfully integrated with existing external systems, any WCS already in place, and all other relevant peripheral systems.

What does the word “integration” mean in the warehouse and distribution center environment?

In the warehouse and distribution center environment, the word “integration” refers to communication between systems. Those systems could be software systems, hardware controls, or any other type of peripheral. When integrated successfully, these systems are able to work together using a well-defined language that consists of a specific set of questions and answers. Integrations provide a variety of business benefits. They allow applications from different suppliers to be combined to create the most effective implementation.

What systems do WMS and WCS integrate with and what is the role of each?

WMSs and WCSs can integrate with upstream and downstream external business systems. Most commonly, the external business system they integrate with is an upstream enterprise resource planning (ERP) system; however, in manufacturing environments, there may also be integrations with downstream external systems, such as material requirements planning (MRP) systems, shipping systems, or transportation management systems (TMS).

Generally speaking, an ERP is designed to manage processes across the entire business. It is the system of record for a wide range of processes, including financials, forecasting, procurement, order management, production planning, and resource management. Although highly effective for managing those processes, ERPs are usually not optimal for real-time workflow optimization within a distribution center or stockroom.

A warehouse management system (WMS) is a specialized application used to manage all of the inventory activity within a distribution center or manufacturing facility. Typically, a WMS interfaces with an ERP system, using information from the ERP to manage workflow and optimize processes. It tracks inventory, regardless of where that inventory is stored. For example, a warehouse might have inventory stored in carousels, VLMs, flow racks, and other shelving locations. A WMS can manage inventory in all of these areas and provide a fluent, fluid, and seamless transaction going from one to another. A WMS can also interface downstream, integrating with other systems, such as a TMS.

WCS stands for warehouse control system. Unlike a WMS, a WCS cannot manage all storage areas within a distribution center or manufacturing facility. Instead, it can only manage automation. This automation can take many forms, ranging from routing cartons or totes on a conveyor system to material handling equipment, such automated storage retrieval systems (ASRS), vertical carousels, or vertical lift modules (VLMs). A WCS integrates with, communicates with, and controls these various automated material handling components within the overall solution. Any inventory in non-automated storage areas needs to be managed by an independent and separate WMS or ERP.

A WMS/WCS is typically more agile than an ERP. That is because a WMS/WCS has more tools and business logic available to manage and optimize workflows within a distribution center or stockroom. As a result, they are able to make localized improvements with far-reaching benefits for inventory control, customer service, assembly, QA, etc. Generally speaking, a WMS/WCS is also easier to change for adaptation to fluctuating business conditions.