Warehouse Control Systems: Automating the Warehouse

As the ecommerce world continues to become more reliant on technology, warehouse operations are not exempt from the advancements of the digital age. Warehouse control systems are the latest and greatest way to streamline processes, maximize efficiency, and improve overall warehouse performance. It provides management with a comprehensive view of the warehouse. 

This includes everything from basic conveyors to more complex systems like sorters, automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS), goods-to-person, palletizing/depalletizing, print and apply labeling, conveyors, pick-to-light modules, carousels, sorters, and AGVs, and other technologies.Other technological solutions, such as those involving robots, and MDR conveyor systems typically introduce more complexity. This article will delve into the advantages of warehouse control systems, their various components, and how they can benefit your warehouse.

What is a Warehouse Control System (WCS)?

A warehouse control system (WCS) is a computerized system that oversees and controls the flow of materials and information within a warehouse. It is responsible for the coordination of all warehouse activities such as receiving, storing, picking, packing, and shipping. A WCS can also be used to manage inventory, optimize labor efficiency, and provide real-time visibility into warehouse operations. The warehouse control system directs real-time activities within the warehouse and fulfillment centers rather than individually controlling warehouse automation devices.

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What is a Warehouse Management System?

A warehouse management system (WMS) is a software application that helps to efficiently manage the day-to-day operations of a warehouse. It helps to automate and streamline the processes of receiving, inventory management, order fulfillment, shipping, and more. Warehouse management systems offer basic core capabilities. Some examples of core capabilities / features are receiving, put-away, stock locating, inventory management, cycle counting, task interleaving, wave planning, order allocation, picking, replenishment, packing, shipping, labor management, and automated materials handling equipment (MHE) interfaces.

More Warehouse Terms Explained

If you’re looking confused by something you heard on the warehouse floor, you’re not alone. Read up on the many warehouse acronyms and terms defined.

Benefits of a Warehouse Control System

The primary purpose of a warehouse control system is to automate and streamline the warehouse experience. By doing so, it can help to reduce costs, improve efficiency, and enhance customer service. Here are a few of the many benefits that a WCS can offer:

  1. Improved Accuracy: By automating certain tasks, a WCS can help to reduce the number of errors that occur in a warehouse. This can help to ensure that orders are filled correctly and on-time.
  2. Increased Efficiency: A WCS can help to reduce labor costs by automating tasks such as picking, packing, and shipping. This can help to increase productivity and improve overall efficiency.
  3. Enhanced Visibility: A WCS can provide real-time visibility into warehouse operations. This can help to improve communication between departments and ensure that orders are fulfilled quickly and accurately.
  4. Reduced Costs: By automating certain tasks, a WCS can help to reduce labor costs. This can help to reduce expenses and increase the overall profitability of the warehouse.
  5. Determining the most efficient product routing and transmitting directives to the equipment controllers.

Cons of a Warehouse Control System

The cons of a warehouse control system are that it can be a costly investment. The cost of the system can be quite high depending on the features and capabilities that it has. Additionally, the system may require ongoing maintenance and updates in order to ensure that it is functioning properly.

Another downside of a warehouse control system is that it can be difficult to operate. The system may require specialized training in order to be able to use it effectively. Additionally, the system may require additional hardware and software in order to be able to function.

Finally, a warehouse control system can be vulnerable to security risks. The system may be vulnerable to hacking and other malicious activities. As such, it is important to ensure that the system is properly secured in order to prevent any data breaches or other security incidents.

Components of a Warehouse Control System

A WCS typically consists of the following components:

  1. Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS): These are automated systems that can store and retrieve items from specific locations. They are typically used to store and retrieve large and bulky items.
  2. RFID Systems: Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) systems are used to track items within the warehouse. They are typically used to manage inventory and optimize labor efficiency.
  3. Warehouse Management Software (WMS): This software is used to manage and coordinate warehouse activities. It can provide real-time visibility into warehouse operations and help to reduce errors and improve efficiency.
  4. Voice Recognition Systems: These systems are used to automate certain tasks such as picking and packing. They can help to reduce labor costs and improve accuracy.

Warehouse Control Software

The global warehouse control system market is also on the rise. According to a study from consulting company Markets and Markets, it is expected to show an annual increase of 16.7% up to 2026. Among other reasons, this growth is due to the upsurge in online sales during the Covid-19 pandemic, to the globalization of supply chains, and to the expansion of cloud technology.

The main purpose of the software is to manage automated equipment on the warehouse floor including conveyors, sorters, packers, carousels, and robotic systems. This is done by interfacing with programmable logic controllers (PLCs) throughout the facility and managing the flow of inventory. This program organizes products taking into account their characteristics and demand level as well as the movements they make (those performed by both operators and machines).

Moreover, with a WCS, you can analyze supply chain KPIs, enabling logistics managers to measure the company’s progress and implement continuous improvement actions. It manages data from inventory, order, labor, transportation and other activities from any enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, utilizing sophisticated algorithms to leverage real-time inputs via the WCS from all warehouse automation (including order finishing, manifesting and other sources).

Bottom Line

By automating certain tasks, a WCS can help to reduce costs, improve efficiency, and enhance customer service. It can provide real-time visibility into warehouse operations and help to reduce errors and improve accuracy. A WCS typically consists of automated storage and retrieval systems, RFID systems, warehouse management software, and voice recognition systems. If you’re looking to improve your warehouse operations, then a warehouse control system might be the perfect solution.

If this seems like more than you are ready to take on, you should consider partnering with a 3PL that already has an established warehouse control system in place. They are experts at managing warehouse and fulfillment operations, and you won’t have to worry about costly and time consuming implementation and they can help you scale as your needs grow.

If you are looking for guidance deciding if investing in your own WCS or working with a 3PL is the best fit for your company, we would love to hear from you. You can read DCL’s list of services to learn more, or check out the many companies we work with to ensure great logistics support. Send us a note to connect about how we can help your company grow.