WCS (warehouse control system) software controls the automatic elements in a logistics facility

WCS software: what it is and how it works

October 3, 2022

A WCS (warehouse control system) is software that controls and manages all the automated elements in a logistics facility. In an environment in which automated warehouses are becoming increasingly widespread, digitization is key for coordinating automatic elements, facilitating decision-making, and fostering efficient dynamics.

Implementing WCS software coordinates the automated equipment in the facility, ensuring safety and maximum throughput. The WCS acts as a bridge between the control PCs and programmable logic controllers (PLCs) of the automated systems and the warehouse management system (WMS), which organizes the company’s logistics operations.

The WCS integrates with the WMS to know which machines to move and which movements to execute
The WCS integrates with the WMS to know which machines to move and which movements to execute

How does WCS software work?

WCS software manages and coordinates product flows in automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS), organizing the movements of the automatic equipment. The WCS sends instructions to the system that governs each piece of handling equipment ― the PLC or industrial PC ― to carry out each movement.

In other words, WCS software is charged with coordinating internal goods transport by means of automatic equipment. This can include conveyors, AGV robots, autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), and stacker cranes for pallets.

To direct and control this automatic handling equipment, the WCS software is integrated and permanently communicates with the WMS and the ERP (enterprise resource planning) system. The ERP software informs the WMS of the orders to prepare. The WMS then notifies the WCS of the products to extract from each location. The integration of both programs maximizes warehouse throughput. That is, the WMS sends the WCS instructions to coordinate the movement of each piece of equipment in such a way that the facility runs smoothly.

What’s the difference between a WCS and a WMS?

In a warehouse, the different software programs are integrated and communicate with each other to ensure efficient workflows. The WCS software executes the movements of the automatic handling equipment in coordination with the WMS, a higher-level software that acts as the mastermind of the warehouse, orchestrating all processes.

The WMS monitors product traceability in real time, knowing the exact location of the goods at all times and organizing their movements. Meanwhile, the WCS governs the operation of the automatic equipment (e.g., conveyors and stacker cranes), making sure they transport products to the location indicated by the WMS.

The WCS software drives the automated devices in the facility, following orders from the WMS. The WCS speeds up goods movements and, consequently, operations such as picking and replenishment. Installing automated storage and internal goods transport systems that are controlled by logistics software eliminates the risk of error due to manual product management. It also speeds up operations in the facility.

WCS software sends instructions to handling equipment such as stacker cranes and conveyors
WCS software sends instructions to handling equipment such as stacker cranes and conveyors

WCS: cornerstone of an automated warehouse

For operations in an automated warehouse to function properly, the relationship between the WCS and WMS software is essential. In the words of the authors of a study by Shanghai University of Engineering Science, “WMS is not an independent system.” The WMS is integrated with other programs — i.e., the ERP system or WCS software — to organize warehouse operations and effectively process and dispatch orders.

One company that turned to digitization to boost efficiency in its automated facility is 3PL provider Nordlogway. In Spain, the Mecalux Group started up a modern AS/RS with capacity for 500 SKUs. These comprise industrial products from the cosmetics sector, industrial ventilation components, and ambient-temperature food. The WCS software organizes the movements of the goods based on Nordlogway’s needs. For instance, it directs the movement of the stacker cranes in each aisle to store and remove products from their locations. The AS/RS is managed by the Mecalux Group’s Easy WMS. “The main benefit we’ve obtained is that now, we no longer have to worry about strategies for slotting and rearranging the goods in the racks. The software decides this for us,” says Jaume Rovira, Operations Manager of Nordlogway’s logistics centers.

Another example is the Idaho State Liquor Division (ISLD). In Boise, Interlake Mecalux built the beverage agency a 51-foot-tall warehouse with capacity for almost 3,000 pallets. The ISLD has implemented Easy WMS software to optimize product flows and ensure traceability. And the WCS executes the movements of the stacker cranes as ordered by the WMS: it directs these machines to insert or remove goods from their locations when the time is right.

Warehouse efficiency calls for WCS software

WCS software is a vital tool for automated warehouses. It controls the flows of material handling equipment while optimizing operations in the facility. In an automated warehouse, the WCS is the program that receives orders from a higher-level software and sends them to the control PC or PLC of each of the automated solutions.

The coordination between the WCS software and the other digitized programs enables maximum logistics efficiency in the facility. Storage and internal goods transport systems like AMRs, stacker cranes, and conveyors considerably boost warehouse productivity.

Want to find out which technologies you need to optimize your automated warehouse? Be sure to contact us. One of our expert consultants will explain the ins and outs of our Easy WMS software and show you how it can adapt to your business needs.

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