What is a warehouse control system? How WCS Helps Automate

The automation of warehouse machinery and equipment requires a system to control it. That’s where a warehouse control system (WCS) comes in.

A warehouse control system (WCS) is a computerized system used to direct and optimize activities (primarily automated ones) in a warehouse or distribution center. These control systems integrate with other systems such as warehouse management systems (WMS) and material handling equipment.

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What are the benefits of a warehouse control system?

By controlling automated processes, a WCS can significantly improve productivity and efficiency. One of the key benefits of a WCS is its ability to provide real-time visibility and insights into operations data. This visibility makes decision-making and proactive problem-solving much easier.

Additionally, a WCS helps streamline material handling and optimize the use of space. This it a valuable tool for improving warehouse operations.

An automation robotic solution for moving pallets and managing inventory in a facility

How does a warehouse control system work?

A warehouse control system (WCS) works by interfacing with material handling equipment and other systems to automatically direct workers and equipment. For example, a robotic forklift or picker may receive directions to the appropriate storage location to collect items for a customer order.

Key Takeaway: WCS Pairs With Automation

Any warehouse that utilizes automation in its operational model must have a system that controls those components (aka, controllers). This is where control systems come in. The controllers are a software application that optimize the automation systems.

Think of it as a brain that integrates all the various function of a body (hands, feet, heartbeat, etc.). With the controller routing all the necessary data, warehouses can manage all their automation technologies from a single software application. It’s just a big bag of optimization!

What is the difference between a WCS and a WMS?

The difference between a WCS and a WMS is in the specific functions they perform. A WCS (warehouse controls system) directs and optimizes the activities in a warehouse or distribution center. A WMS (warehouse management system) however, manages the operational “tasks”.

These operational tasks that are organized and prioritized by a WMS include things like tracking inventory and ensuring orders are fulfilled. A WCS will integrated with other warehouse systems such as WMSs and act as a controller for automation.

NOTE: WCS vs WMS Use

A WMS can manage the flow of material inside an entire company, whereas a WCS controls the automation at a specific location.

3 Core Features of Good Control Systems

There are many features that a good control system for your warehouse should have. It’s easy to get lost in all of the varying functions and features, but there are 3 core features that any system should have.

Real Time Inventory Tracking

All of them should have the ability to track processes in real-time. This is the basic core component of a control system. The data should be available to warehouse staff at any time. Otherwise, the staff won’t be able to make decisions about where to store materials and how to move them around the warehouse.

Software for controlling the flow and operation of automation equipment

Agnostic Integration Compatibility

The system should have control of all the warehouse’s equipment for material handling. Unless, of course, all of your equipment fits in the proprietary requirements.

This includes conveyor belts, robots, and forklifts. Sometimes, a WCS may have proprietary connections only to certain equipment brands or types. This is something you should look out for when evaluating your options.

WMS Integration Capabilities

Finally, (and this goes without saying) your WCS should integrate with other warehouse systems, such as warehouse management systems (WMS) and distribution center controllers. Without this, your data won’t transfer properly and you will not have a very well-optimized warehouse.

Factors to consider when choosing a warehouse controller

When choosing a WCS, there are many factors to consider. After all, it is the central nervous system of the warehouse, controlling all material handling equipment and automating most warehouse operations.

Does it integrate cross-platform?

Whatever software provider you are considering should check the boxes we just listed above. At the least, the system must be able to interface with all warehouse equipment and systems, including the warehouse management system (WMS). This enables real-time information on warehouse activity.

Can it scale with my company?

Another important factor to consider is your company’s future growth. Whatever WCS you decide upon must also be scalable to accommodate future growth and your changing needs. That may include support for the types of automation and software planned for future use in the warehouse.

Unfortunately, that’s the difficult part of the decision-making process, because the future picture of your company is not always clear.

A warehouse operation with a flow of lots of robotic pallet pickers moving in the facility

Installation and implementation of a warehouse control system

Most often, the hardware and software requirements to implement a WCS are provided by a single company.

We recommend working with a consulting firm when you decide to implement automation and system to control it. A good, experienced firm can diagnose your exact needs (both now and in the future) and hold your hand during the installation process of your system.

Final Thoughts

Warehouse control systems are an essential piece of automation for all kinds of warehouses. By utilizing the technologies and capabilities available in these types of controllers, complex tasks like managing the flow and routing of automated material handling is greatly simplified. Not only that but to do so in an efficient way that ensures the investment into them is well worth it.

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