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Date Posted: 5/5/2014

Definitive Discussion about Warehouse Control Systems versus Warehouse Management Systems

By Thomas R. Cutler

There is confusion when to apply a WMS software solution versus a WCS which 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.

There is a place for both warehouse management systems (WMS) and warehouse control systems (WCS).   Often a WCS executes instructions provided by an upper-level host system, such as an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system or a WMS system. 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.

Tier 1, 2, and 3 of WCS. Defining WCS is not easy. It is ubiquitous and everyone has one, yet not all WCS’s are alike, ranging from Tier 3 to Tier 1.  In general a WCS is an Integration Tool, an Execution System, and a Productivity Tool.  It permits integrators to provide a more strategic-focused system that delivers dramatic increases in productivity.

Current WCS Markets would have all of the following variables, usually defined as Tier 1:

Inventory Management
Cartonizing / Dynamic Allocation
Carrier Compliant Shipping
Order Fulfillment
Packout Processing
Order Consolidation
MHE Management
Conveyor Routing / Sortation
Inline Scales / Print & Apply

Tier 2 would have all of the above, minus Inventory Management, Cartonizing / Dynamic Allocation, and Carrier Compliant Shipping.  Tier 3, would only have MHE Management, Conveyor Routing / Sortation, and Inline Scales / Print & Apply.

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.

Cartonization allows picking directly to shipping container and eliminates movement from pick container to shipping carton. The size and number of cartons are projected up front and the shipping method and cost can be calculated up front as well.  This aspect of a warehouse control system (WCS) is vital.  Looking the available carton sizes defined by the customer or the carrier also allows for MHE considerations.

Cartonization also allows for in-line weight tolerance checking.  This is but one element of the WCS and is quite distinction from the purpose and functionality of a warehouse management system (WMS.)  

Wave Management controls release of work to the floor and is an important part of warehouse control systems (WCS) and differentiates warehouse management systems (WMS.)

Work flow can be manage via a wave or waveless operation; group picks are made by order attributes such as shipping method or delivery zone, order types, or pick zones.   WCS allows warehouses to limit wave size to balance picking activity and balance picking by zone.  There is also the ability to limit work by destination, if required.  

Often the conversation of WCS versus WMS arises when other inefficiencies are located in the packaging operation, such as orders picked into a tote, not into shipping cartons. This presents a challenge because when the tote is sent to the packing area, the packing operator must select the correct box for the contents, pack it, seal it, and forward it to shipping. Most companies require a system that allows for multiple carriers, where the server passes information only once per day.

Warehouse control systems are not for everyone; yet as lean efficiencies are mandated many companies are looking at WCS solutions which enable them to streamline warehouse operations with a low total cost of ownership.    

June 10th at Noon EST there will be a comprehensive discussion about when to choose WCS or WMS. The webinar is free of charge and hosted by QC Software.                                                                                                    


Author Contact:
Thomas R. Cutler
TR Cutler, Inc.

About Author
Thomas R. Cutler is the President & CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based, TR Cutler, Inc., ( Cutler is the founder of the Manufacturing Media Consortium including more than 5000 journalists, editors, and economists writing about trends in manufacturing, industry, material handling, and process improvement. Cutler authors more than 500 feature articles annually regarding the manufacturing sector. Cutler is the most published freelance industrial journalist worldwide and can be contacted at and can be followed on Twitter @ThomasRCutler.


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