WMS WCS Integrations

What Are the Current Trends Impacting Supply Chains and Warehouse And Distribution Space?

Current Trends Impacting Supply Chains and Warehouse And Distribution Space

There are three significant trends currently impacting supply chains and warehouse and distribution space. These trends are: the shortage of warehouse and distribution space, labor availability, and accelerating e-commerce growth.

The shortage of warehouse and distribution space

Consumers are increasingly turning to online shopping and research suggests by 2025, an additional 1 billion square feet of warehouse and distribution space will be needed to keep up with this growing demand. But shoppers cannot wait for the build out of infrastructure; they want their orders fulfilled today. That is why more and more distribution center managers and supply chain leaders are working to maximize space in their current facilities. They are reconfiguring layouts to maximize vertical space and increase storage density while also implementing goods-to-person technologies including robotics, autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), and automated storage retrieval systems (ASRS).

Labor availability

The pandemic, competition from Amazon, and changing workforce expectations are all effecting labor availability. As a result, distribution center management and supply chain executives are seeking labor-saving solutions such as automation. In addition, they want to shorten the training time required to get their labor to productive rates sooner.

Accelerating e-commerce growth

Before the pandemic, e-commerce was growing steadily, but somewhat modestly. Then, in May 2020, e-commerce spending skyrocketed $82.5 billion—an increase of 77%. That expansion has continued and now nearly equals what was projected for the next four to six years’ growth combined. This unprecedented growth, coupled with the shortages in warehouse/distribution space and labor, is creating extraordinary challenges for supply chain leadership. Many are considering implementing a warehouse management system (WMS) and/or a warehouse control system (WCS) to meet these challenges.

Warehouse Magement System

What Is The Difference Between WMS, WCS, And WES?

What Is the Difference Between Warehouse Management System (WMS). Warehouse Control System (WCS), and Warehouse Execution System (WES)

A true Warehouse Management System (WMS), when it’s not a bolt-on module, is the foundation for inventory management within a warehouse. It controls all inventory operations, including tracking, expiration date tracking, and numerous other details that an ERP would be hard pressed to keep track of with large scale inventories of 100,000—200,000 items.

A warehouse control system (WCS) is a software package that not only manages some forms of WMS functionality, but also controls automation equipment within that same environment. In other words, a WCS controls, directs, and manages vertical carousels, vertical lift modules (VLMs), horizontal carousels, conveyor systems, sortation systems, autonomous guided vehicles (AGV), automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS), goods to person (G2P), pick by light, put by light (i.e., put wall), hands free picking, robotic picking, and more.

A WCS interfacing with all these different technologies can sound quite complicated, but the level of complexity depends on the type of automation equipment under control and the capabilities the WCS. In fact, for most horizontal carousels, vertical carousels, and vertical lift modules (VLM), the WCS can be relatively straightforward. Other technological solutions, such as those involving robots, AGVs, and MDR conveyor systems, typically introduce more complexity.

A warehouse execution system (WES) is analogous to a task manager; it will execute on a specific task, but it can do tasks from the WMS and it can do tasks from the WCS. Some call it a “WMS lite.” A WES has some, but not have all, of the capabilities of a WMS.

Our WCS software capabilities interface directly with the underlying PLC-based controls so an extra OEM software system or integration point to communicate to automation PLCs is not required. This eliminates an entire layer of software complexity across a warehouse operation. A WCS can be considered the brains or the intelligence of the automation as opposed to the direct control of equipment. The underlying PLC machine controls execute the decisions dictated by the WCS or WES.

What type of operator training is required for WMS with WCS?

Operators do not need training on the software programs for the automation included in the WCS. From the user perspective, all WCS functioning happens in the background. Maintenance personnel will need to know how to service and maintain the different automated systems, but warehouse operators will only see the end result—e.g., that the carousel has spun and that the light bar is indicating the product that needs to be picked.