Distributors are constantly challenged to streamline processes, accelerate productivity, increase efficiency and reduce costs. Warehouse Control System (WCS) bridge material handling equipment with ERP or Warehouse Management (WMS). Today many WCS do not address operational or process challenges. Consequently, Warehouse Execution Systems (WES) were introduced. A WES synchronizes resources necessary to complete such tasks as order fulfillment and shipping. Furthermore a WES orchestrates the overall flow of work by selecting the next best order to release from the available pool of orders and current workload.
"The best advice is not to get caught up in the hype and acronyms. Rather concentrate on what functionality is needed to operate the warehouse or distribution center"
So do you need both? Fortunately not as sophisticated WCS have evolved into a WCS/WES hybrid. Sheetz and Crate and Barrel are examples of businesses with different markets, demands, schedules, tools, processes and supply chain strategies; yet both leveraging WCS/WES functionality.
Sheetz delivers three times a week to each of its 535 convenience stores across six states. Until recently distribution was handled by a single Pennsylvania-based facility. Sheetz wanted to move away from a customized distribution environment and leverage off-the-shelf control components coupled with product-based software solutions and implement a modern, easily configurable warehousing system. Key to this was a modern WCS synchronizing material handling, order fulfillment while driving efficiency. The single system would replace three separate systems. The initial phase focused on: Tote Conveyor Routing, Carousel Picking, and Cigarette Pick/Pack Control.
• Significant reduction in down-time preventing the flow of containers to shipping.
• Several daily delays and workarounds reduced to the occasional issue every couple of months saving 6+ hours a week.
• The ability to begin a batch before reconciling previous batch. This keeps production moving eliminating 5 minutes of down-time 15 times a day.
Crate and Barrel
On-line orders for Crate and Barrel can approach 15,000 orders a day with the number doubling during peak season; but increased demand coupled with an inefficient paper-based process created problems. These issues, along with inventory control, picking accuracy, replenishment, and packing operations challenges put a strain on warehouse operations.
Improvement goals included better inventory tracking, faster and more accurate fulfillment, and the ability to leverage new picking tools. Furthermore, management was charged with making these improvements while reducing costs. “Our new system provides real-time data allowing us to manage business more effectively,” explained Direct Fulfillment Manager, Howard Filip. “Additionally we can re-allocate labor resources to fulfill orders.” This flexibility allowed the company to streamline operations by adopting new processes, such as cartonization, zone skipping, and dynamic slotting.
Dynamic slotting in particular proved to be a tremendous asset. Because of the wide range of SKUs, and the seasonal nature of retailing, business was constantly challenged with rotating stock to optimize picking. Now products are slotted based on velocity and forecast. “Before we did it all manually,” said Filip. “Now it’s all automated. This saves time, labor, and helps to fill orders faster.”
In 2013, when the automated solution was introduced, the results were:
• Operational Bottlenecks Reduced
• Hourly Picking Improved from 50 to 200 Pieces
• Measurable Inventory Control
• 40 - 60 percent Labor Savings
In addition, the system provided the ability to consolidate three separate business channels into a single operation allowing Crate and Barrel to quantifiably measure performance and track progress via extensive reporting tools. At the same time the dynamic slotting capability allowed the company to be even more responsive to seasonal change-over.
Think about your needs
As they continue to evolve, the distinction between WCS and WES is becoming increasingly blurred. The best advice is not to get caught up in the hype and acronyms. Rather concentrate on what functionality is needed to operate the warehouse or distribution center in the most efficient manner.