Evolution of Supply Chain Software
Prior to the 90's, supply chain management and execution was very much a manual process. Paper was king, and knowledge was kept within the heads of employees who had worked in the warehouse for a number of years. Mistakes and errors were normal and order fulfillment
In the 90's, software became sophisticated enough where companies started using warehouse management software packages to help them reduce errors, manage their inventory, and perform basic order fulfillment functions. It created a huge boom in the industry, and companies that were using supply chain software became much better at their job with less errors and rework. Customer satisfaction increased as they were getting shipments faster and more accurate.
The supply chain industry became hungry for more optimization, and automation started appearing in warehouses and distribution centers. As soon as automation became the benchmark, companies wanted software to control it and tie it back to their higher level software packages like warehouse management and ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems – warehouse control software made its appearance.
Companies, especially in retail distribution, became efficient and increased their speed in a dramatic way. Warehouse management, warehouse control, ERP and other software packages continued to become faster, smarter and more integrated with excellent functional algorithms. Then, in the second decade of this century, eCommerce and omni-channel distribution started taking supply chain by storm. Warehouse management and control was no longer sufficient. Customers now demand close to same day delivery as well as dynamic, down-to-a-minute changes and the ability to re-prioritize or change order fulfillment. A new supply chain package was needed that could sit between warehouse management and control – warehouse execution made its appearance.
Below is a supply chain software comparison of WMS, WCS, and WES.
Warehouse Management Software (WMS)
A Warehouse management system (WMS)
is the highest level of software provided on a warehouse and distribution center level. It starts with reliable communication to an ERP or homegrown host system, and its main responsibility is inventory accuracy and its management, tracking, and visibility. The goal of any WMS software package is to always be able to answer the question of where inventory is within the four walls of a warehouse. The answer has to be specific, down to a single location within a material handling equipment or storage space.
Furthermore, how is inventory moved across various areas of the warehouse? What goes in or out has to comply with sophisticated receiving, transportation and shipping rules. A well-built WMS is packaged into an integrated set of business rules with the ability of setting those rules through configuration parameters. As a final result, there is complete visibility to customer service and management in a real-time fashion.
Key attributes of a WMS:
- ERP connectivity
- Inventory tracking and management
- Core functions focus on inbound, outbound, and inventory maintenance functions
- Inventory allocation logic
- Complex cycle counting and physical inventory processing
- Order fulfillment using workstation and RF handheld user interface
- Labor management
- Advanced functions such as planning, order and container cubing, slotting, and reverse logistics
- Transportation planning and shipping execution
- Connectivity to warehouse control system to provide material handling equipment integration, as well as picking technologies such as Pick To Voice (PTV), Pick To Light (PTL), Automated Storage and Retrieval (AS/RS), goods-to-person, and others
- Visibility through a user portal. The portal is the face of the WMS showing information on orders, products, locations, users, security rights, etc.
- Visibility through business intelligence and reporting on the WMS level including inventory and order information
Warehouse Control Software (WCS)
When we talk about a Warehouse Control System (WCS),
it is all about being nimble and able to complete work through communication with automation equipment. While WMS focuses on the high level picture--maintaining inventory and orders--WCS is all about communication, speed and execution; getting things done on the floor. In general, a WCS does not focus on integrating extensive, intelligent algorithms since most of its work is assigned by the WMS that sends that work over to the WCS.
In addition, decision making is based on input from the PLC (programmable logic controller) or other low level automation software. The key benefit of a WCS is speed of communication and decision making, where microseconds matter and can make the difference. The main responsibilities of a WCS is to provide a bridge between the WMS and order fulfillment
and automation hardware such as conveyor,
sorters, inline print and apply, inline scales and scanners, and picking technologies like Pick To Voice (PTV), Automated Storage and Retrieval (AS/RS), goods-to-person and others
There are significant differences between the various warehouse control systems available on the market. Best of breed WCS packages are equipment agnostic and able to integrate with equipment from different manufacturers as well as easily interchange between technologies.
WCS must not be the limiting factor on what automation technology or equipment is used within the warehouse or distribution center. Additionally, best of breed WCS systems can offset several key WMS functions such as work planning, labor management, and slotting.
Key attributes of a best of breed WCS:
- Planning – create waves or batches on the WCS side, or receive waves from WMS, and manage them through completion
- Automation – communicate with different automation equipment
- Integration – ability to plug in and out equipment from various suppliers
- Order Fulfillment – picking process
- License Plate (LPN) tracking in real time
- Visibility – Human Machine Interface (HMI) of the automation system
- Visibility – real time notification services via text, email, instant messaging, or other on errors, alerts, and warnings
- Visibility – business intelligence and reporting on the WCS level including statistical information on automation equipment
Warehouse Execution Software (WES)
Forward thinking, modern companies realize that today’s supply chain execution is very different compared to execution from three or four years ago. Today, customers demand speed of delivery with the ability to dynamically change execution and order fulfillment
. This is exacerbated by the importance of eCommerce and omni-channel distribution. The gap created by this need in which WMS and WCS cannot fill is completed by a Warehouse Execution System
WES sits in between the WMS and WCS, and very often can offset some functionality of these systems. The need for WES is growing very fast as companies rush to meet customer demand and expand their markets, and facilities that have WES functionality are able to execute on a higher level. It is even possible to implement a WES to replace a WMS and talk directly to the ERP. This is especially possible when communicating with sophisticated ERP systems such as SAP.
Key attributes of WES:
- Workload planning
- System balancing
- Dynamic order allocation (and re-allocation)
- Dynamic order release
- Shipping management
- Replenishment execution or management
- Integration with WMS (or ERP) systems
- WCS integration (or replacement)
- Visibility – real time notification on order allocation, inventory and automation equipment
- Visibility – business intelligence and reporting on warehouse execution level
Role of Exacta Suite
The Exacta supply chain software
suite positions itself uniquely in the industry. Exacta historically offered integration of WMS and WCS functionality under one system. With the development of integrated systems that require extremely fast, dynamic, and real-time execution and decision making, significant obstacles emerged for disconnected warehouse management and controls systems. For Exacta, it was a natural transition of adding warehouse execution system functionality to work in tandem with the platform's WMS and WCS functions.
Seamless integration between the three functions is unique in the industry, offering a unified user interface, business rules, configuration, real time notification and visibility under one roof. There is no loss of time or information from one system to another; the system executes at top speed. To top it off, system support is handled by a single point of contact, eliminating troubleshooting between several vendors that inevitably ends up in time and productivity loss.
Exacta serves as the glue that pulls WMS, WCS and WES functionality into one platform that can execute at different rates to meet total system throughput requirements--and at the best cost to our customers.
Today’s distribution is constantly evolving and demands software packages that provide the ultimate flexibility at the highest possible speed. Throughput rates keep growing on a daily basis, requiring incorporation of advanced technologies and automation equipment into the system, meaning warehouse management and warehouse control systems are needed more than ever.
In addition, new, dynamic management and balancing of the system is needed to execute today’s warehouse workload. This creates an opportunity for warehouse execution systems to find a permanent place in the supply chain software realm. Complexities of system management will increase, and customers will need systems that integrate all three--WMS, WCS and WES functions--under one management suite. Packages like Exacta look to fulfill this role and enable companies to execute at the highest level.
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