Three New WES (Warehouse Execution System) Qualities That Create Success
Modern order fulfillment, with its heavy reliance on automation and technology, would not be possible without communication.
Customers must communicate with companies to place orders; individual warehouses and facilities must communicate with one another in order to efficiently route inventory and fulfill the orders that customers place; equipment and systems within each facility must communicate with one another to process, pack, and ultimately ship orders.
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Without clear, consistent, and reliable communication between all of these parties, there would be so many opportunities for error that most operations simply would not be able to function in the way that they need to function in today’s global, omni-channel economy.
Traditionally, much of this communication was handled by one of two (sometimes both) separate systems, each of which had a different set of capabilities: A Warehouse Management System (WMS) or a Warehouse Control System (WCS).
But in recent years, an additional solution has entered the fray—the Warehouse Execution System (WES), which blurs the lines between a WMS and a WCS.
Below, we explore the key differences between WMS, WCS, and WES and outline the key characteristics that you should look for in choosing a warehouse execution system if you decide that that is the best type of software for your operation.
WES vs. WMS vs. WCS: What Are The Key Differences?
Warehouse Management Systems, Warehouse Control Systems, and Warehouse Execution Systems are all obviously related in that they enable an operation to fulfill orders. The ways in which they accomplish this, though, are very different.
Traditionally, order fulfillment operations have used Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) to control the flow of inventory within and without their facilities, from receipt of product to putaway, replenishment, and eventually shipping. The system can also be used to manage certain labor activities related to picking and wave building. In order to accomplish these tasks, the WMS must by nature know where inventory is at each step of the supply chain. Of the three softwares, WMS has been around the longest (around 40 years) and is therefore the most mature.
A Warehouse Control System (WCS), on the other hand, is designed to control the physical flow of product (whether individual units, cartons, or pallets) on various types of automated technology. This may include anything from standard conveyors to more advanced sorters, automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS), goods-to-person, palletizing/depalletizing, print and apply (PANDA), other technologies. It’s for this reason that a WCS is positively-suited for facilities that are highly automated.
A Warehouse Execution System (WES) falls somewhere between a WMS and a WCS, performing certain functions of each. Typically, a WES will include all of the features of a WCS as well as some of the features of a WMS. This can include basic receiving, replenishment, and shipping functionalities, the management of picking systems (electronic, radio frequency [RF], and voice), wave planning, and order processing.
The relationship between the three systems is perhaps best explained in the diagram below:
How to Choose a Warehouse Execution System
It is important to note that the exact mix of WMS/WES/WCS that an operation requires will depend on the specifics of the business and industry. Factors such as an operation’s level of automation, the specific types of automation, and the ways in which inventory and product flows through a facility will all influence which software(s) are required to support the operation.
That being said, many operations can, and do, realize powerful benefits by integrating a WES within their systems. A trusted systems integrator can help you determine which solution (or solutions) are the best fit for your business.
If it is decided that a WES makes sense for your operation, the next hurdle is in choosing the right system for you. While this will again depend upon the specifics of your operation, we typically recommend that any WES that you consider should exhibit the following three characteristics:
- It is configurable
- It is modular
- It is ready-to-run
In most cases, the WCS portion of the WES will offer the same basic functionality to all customers. While this base module may fulfill 80 or 90 percent of the functionality required by the information, it is very rare that it will be 100 percent aligned to each and every operation. In these cases, change orders must be requested and built into the system to bring the WES up to the standards of what the customer requires.
These change orders of course add time and cost to the development and deployment of the WES. That’s why configurability is so important. The best-in-class WES solutions will include frequently-requested and required flexibility designed directly into the base module to make the process of settling the software easier and more streamlined.
This is related to the configurability discussed above.
Because each operation is unique in how it handles inventory, processes orders, and relies on automation, very rarely is it the case that a single WES will work out of the box for multiple operations. To do so would require software so bloated that it could not be efficient.
A modular WES avoids this bloat, by relying on a single core module into which a series of other pre-designed modules can be “plugged” in order to build a complete system that meets the customer’s unique needs. This creates a base of tested code from which the vendor can pull, ultimately reducing commission time and making software support easier (and required less frequently).
A truly state-of-the-art WES should include external device emulation, which is leveraged to completely test, troubleshoot, and debug the software prior to it being put in place within an operation. The host interface, PLC, scanners, and other external devices are all emulated to ensure that the WES performs exactly as it must in the field.
The Bottom Line
As stated above, each operation, business, and industry must contend with its own unique challenges and realities. These realities influence many aspects of the operation, including the type of software (WMS, WES, WCS, or a combination thereof) that will help you meet the demands of your supply chain.
When choosing which type of system to implement, it is important to consider both your current reality as well as future goals—including expansion and growth. A skilled and trusted systems integrator can help you determine your best path forward.