4 Main Types of Warehouse Software
Modern order fulfillment depends on certain key pieces of software to keep the operation running smoothly and efficiently. For most warehouses and distribution centers, this will at a minimum include a warehouse management system (WMS) and an enterprise resource planning (ERP) software. Of course, operations with a large amount of automation will also require software to manage that equipment, typically in the form of either a warehouse execution system (WES) or a warehouse controls system (WCS).
Taken together, these four options—ERP, WMS, WCS, and WES—are the most common types of warehouse software that you are likely to come across and potentially leverage in your operation.
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With this in mind, below is a closer look at the role that each of these pieces of software plays within the warehouse, so that you can have a clearer sense of how your operation can benefit (or not) by implementing each of them.
Warehouse Software Types
In order to understand how these four systems relate to one another and work together in your operation, just remember this simple rule: The WCS/WES feeds into the WMS, which itself feeds into the ERP.
WCS/WES –> WMS –> ERP
1. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) Software
The enterprise resource planning (ERP) software is essentially an integrated business suite for your operation. It is designed to collect , store, and manage data from across multiple departments within your business. This will often include information about manufacturing, ecommerce, customer relations, sales, marketing, inventory management, shipping, product planning, and more.
The ERP is especially valuable due to the fact that it includes comprehensive financial reporting capabilities that allows you to invoice, bill, track, etc. In addition to the WMS, other systems will feed into it, making it a central repository of data for your entire operation.
2. Warehouse Management System (WMS)
The warehouse management system (WMS) is responsible for the flow of inventory within the warehouse or distribution center. This typically includes everything from receipt of product to putaway, replenishment, and shipping. As such, the WMS plays a critical role in, well, managing the activities of the warehouse. Transportation management, supply chain integration, labor management, shipping management, and yard management all fall under the helm of the WMS, as may some additional functionality.
As mentioned above, the WMS is generally integrated with the ERP. The WCS or WES integrate into the WMS as well.
3. Warehouse Controls System (WCS)
The warehouse controls system (WCS) is responsible for managing automated technologies in use throughout the warehouse or DC. For example, the activities of your automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS), autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), sortation, conveyors, and more will all typically be managed by one or multiple WCSs. As such, the easiest way to think of the WCS is that it offers a layer of additional functionality that is typically not handled by the WMS.
4. Warehouse Execution System (WES)
The easiest way to describe a warehouse execution system (WES) is to say that it is essentially the next generation of the WCS. The WES orchestrates the operation by balancing resources to optimize their performance. The resources that the WES truly optimizes is both labor and equipment. The WES applies labor where and when needed and directs automated equipment to assure that all zones and areas within a facility are operating not only at peak, but orchestrated. Partial orders sitting and waiting for the last pieces are not beneficial to an operation. In fact, it often lowers the performance of the facility and requires additional (and wasted) labor and hardware to physically balance the material flow.
The WES is designed to perform all of the automation controls that the WCS handles, but also adds functionality in the form of wave and order management, manifesting, bin level inventory management, picking management, and more. The functionalities of the WES can also often overlap somewhat with the functionality of the WMS, including labor management, receiving, putaway, shipping, and yard management.
As such, most operations that currently employ a WCS and are looking to upgrade or replace their existing software are likely to realize significant benefits by moving to a WES.
Other Considerations to Remember
Regardless of which specific software you are looking to implement within your operation, it’s important that the option you choose is the best one for your particular business needs and goals. While these needs will vary from business to business, more often than not the highest quality solution will be the one that offers the flexibility, modularity, and functionality you will need to support your business as it changes and grows over time.
With this in mind, we consider modularity, flexibility, and robust functionality to be hallmarks of all top warehouse software, whether you are in the market for an ERP, WMS, WES, or WCS.
If you are specifically in the market for a warehouse execution system, the Horizon™ WES represents each of these characteristics.
Horizon is vigorously stress-tested using emulators prior to the go-live date, so you can be confident that implementation will go smoothly and with minimal downtime. It was built to be modular by design, including only the modules you need at the time of implementation. This makes for a speedier system without too much bloat.
At the same time, modularity makes it easy to add on additional functionality as your business changes. And because the system is manufacturer agnostic, you will never be locked into selecting equipment or systems from a particular provider. This means you always have the freedom to choose the exact right piece of equipment for your needs, regardless of the manufacturer, knowing that it will play well with your system.
A trusted systems integrator and software provider can help you understand your options and guide you to the solution that makes the most sense for your business. Contact us today to speak with a member of the Conveyco Team.