Speed, complexity and the need for flexible fulfillment operations are the hallmark of today’s distribution environment. The Internet of Things, where everything is connected, is enabling real-time information to be shared, collected and analyzed to drive more efficient behavior. The Holy Grail is real-time order optimization, where algorithms balance workflow and optimize rhythms throughout the entire operation. The result is unprecedented efficiency and accuracy without putting service levels in jeopardy. The complexity and types of solutions that omnichannel commerce demands are where warehouse control systems (WCS) really starts to shine.
WCS is now capable of handling data directly, bypassing the WMS, and optimizing waves based on real-time inventory, labor, process and equipment information. One of the biggest advantages of WCS is that it’s always aware of every piece of equipment and device in your facility – where boxes are, where lanes are full, how long boxes have been sitting in an area. It provides greater visibility into the state of the entire facility and order stream. And it can perform “what-if” analysis to re-route orders around bottlenecks based on the status of any piece of equipment or zone.
Today’s WCS also opens up new possibilities for analytics to help drive smarter decisions. The systems can now run more than just automation equipment like conveyor, pick carousels, print and apply stations, and AGVs. They can tie in other devices like wearables voice-recognition, smart watches and other mobile devices. This adds a completely new level of visibility into the location and actions of people, which further extends visibility into the DC. Imagine knowing that one zone of your distribution center is about to finish a wave of work, so you dynamically reassign your two most productive pickers to a zone that is falling behind. It's the value of real-time measurement of associates and being able to move people around to respond to changes on the floor as they occur.
In the future, WCS will provide even greater flexibility by being written in modular plug-ins or apps (like those on your cell phone). In this new app environment, you can purchase just the functions you need and add other functions as your operational requirements change. And with HTML5, those apps are deployable on mobile devices with connections to real-time video feeds and analytics.
The evolution of distribution centers into highly automated and optimized environments with robotics and wearables has attracted the attention of younger “Silicon Valley types” to the industry who will continue to develop new, innovative solutions.
Disruptive technologies are ushering in a new breed of warehouse control systems. WCS will continue to help companies gain efficiencies on unprecedented levels by absorbing functionality from warehouse management systems, integrating Internet of Things technologies like wearables and by tapping a deeper pool of talent to develop innovative solutions for the next generation warehouse.
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