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Warehouse Control Systems Expand

  Article published in DM Direct Newsletter
October 20, 2006 Issue
  By Thomas Cutler

There is a significant shift between warehouse management systems (WMS) and warehouse control systems (WCS) in the area of merging local data warehouses into an enterprise data warehouse. There are suites of software products that provide the tools necessary to efficiently and economically operate a warehouse or distribution center.

Traditionally, a WCS executes instructions provided by an upper-level host system, such as an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system or a WMS system. True tier-one WCS software provides advanced management capabilities including inventory control, resource scheduling and order management. The best-of-breed WCS systems are modular in nature, easily configurable and platform independent, with a scalable architecture to satisfy the needs of any size warehouse.

Unlike a typical WMS software solution, WCS directs real-time data management and interface responsibilities of the material handling system as well as provides common user interface screens for monitoring, control and diagnostics.

The focal point for managing the operational aspects of the material handling system, WCS provides the critical link between the batch-time data host and the real-time programmable logic controller (PLC) material-handling system.

The PLC coordinates the various real-time control devices to accomplish the daily workload. At each decision point in the distribution process, the WCS "determines" the most efficient routing of the product and transmits directives to the equipment controllers to achieve the desired result. The decision-making process is often controlled by two separate utilities, the sort manager and the route director.

Inventory Management System

Few WCSs contain an inventory management system (IMS); software solutions that have this feature use state-of-the-art technology to enhance the accuracy and efficiency of warehouse operations and data integrity. IMS manages all item numbers and warehouse locations. The major inventory events of an IMS process include bar code label printing, receiving, put-away, cycle counting, picking and replenishment.

IMS controls the replenishment between bulk storage locations and pick locations. The replenishment engine continuously monitors inventory levels of active pick locations and automatically generates replenishment tasks based on a minimum quantity threshold set for each item. Replenishment tasks may also be generated manually in anticipation of increased activity for an item.

IMS allows for multiple methods of counting to ensure inventory accuracy. Counts may be taken based on location, item, last cycle count date, or velocity. Full reconciliation and discrepancy reports should be provided as well as the capability to track all cycle count history.

IMS Features:

  • Barcode label printing enables users to produce labels for locations, items and shipping. Uses various methods, including automated, in-line print and apply technology.
  • Provides full functionality for receiving goods into the warehouse; uses portable data terminals (PDT) allowing product to be received more efficiently.
  • Allows for random or directed put-away of goods within the warehouse and also provides the capability to move items between locations.
  • The picking function adjusts inventory levels based on pick transactions from a PDT or other picking system; it allows full traceability of inventory transaction movements within the system.

Order Management System

An order management system (OMS) provides the functionality necessary to properly and efficiently execute the order fulfillment process. This robust module should be included with the WCS purchase. OMS facilitates the planning, processing, verifying and shipping of orders within the warehouse or distribution center.

Planning orders for optimized picking is the most essential aspect in the order fulfillment process. OMS must be a configurable tool that allows orders to be streamlined for picking efficiency. OMS will allow the utilization of the Wave Planner and Scheduling functions; the most efficient picking technique will be determined by whether product processing is single line/single quantity orders, multiple line orders, or ship alone orders. The OMS releases the proper number of Pick Tasks to maintain a fluid workload. The OMS also provides functionality to select the proper carton(s) for shipping an order by analyzing the content of each order to select the proper size shipping container.

OMS Features

  • Items are allocated to the various containers based on weight, dimension, and pick zone location in order to minimize the number of containers routed to each zone for a single order.
  • Manual and/or automated picking solutions such as pick tickets, carousels, pick-to-light (PTL), and radio frequency terminals can be used with an effective OMS. OMS features must allow for multiple picking methods such as batch or cluster picks.
  • Using pick-request messages from the various picking subsystem controllers an OMS should track the status of each order and ensure order integrity.
  • OMS tracks the status of the order throughout the process and provides real-time management statistics.

Shipping Management System

Shipment management system (SMS) is a software tool that provides reliable parcel and LTL shipment manifesting. SMS is integrated into the normal operation and streamlines daily shipping routines. Label printing, carrier-compliant documentation and email notification are just some of the tasks that may be completed with a strong SMS module within a WCS suite. SMS technologies must support shipping in North America and Europe and include manifesting with the following carriers: UPS, USPS, LTL, DHL, Purolator, Canada Post and Canpar. Whether utilized with a WCS suite, in a standalone environment, or integrated with current supply chain solutions, SMS is a proven shipping solution for any distribution environment.

SMS Features

  • Shipment notification via email should allow for enhanced customer support.
  • Customized shipping solutions must be integrated to enhance distribution and warehousing needs.
  • API-based integration tools should be used to successfully execute shipping functionality.
  • Multi-carrier functionality should be efficiently managed via one interface screen.

The Changing Face of Control Systems in the DC

The expanding role of warehouse control systems will only continue as WCS solutions provide management and control functionality for material handling and data collection control. Since WCS also acts as middleware - integrating warehouse management systems (WMS) with various material handling controls within the warehouse, the significance of this technology will only continue to expand.

Many WMS software solutions are suggesting that a WCS component is contained: caveat emptor (buyer beware). The vendors below either have a specific WCS component or contain a genuine WCS suite (containing the elements previewed in this feature article.)

Diamond Phoenix www.diamondphoenix.com

FKI Logistex WCS www.fkilogistex.com

HighJump Software www.highjumpsoftware.com

QC Software WCS Suite www.QCSoftware.com


For more information on related topics visit the following related portals...
DW Basics, ERP and Supply Chain.

Thomas R. Cutler is the president and CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based TR Cutler, Inc., the largest manufacturing marketing firm worldwide www.trcutlerinc.com. Cutler is the founder of the Manufacturing Media Consortium of 2,700 journalists and editors writing about trends in manufacturing. Cutler is also the author of the Manufacturers' Public Relations and Media Guide. Cutler is a frequently published author within the manufacturing sector with more than 300 feature articles authored annually. He may be contacted at trcutler@trcutlerinc.com.

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