Considerations to Simplify Your WCS Selection
Your business has dictated that an upgrade needs to be done to your existing warehouse distribution system. This upgrade could involve both equipment and processes. You’ve spent countless hours thinking about layouts, material flow, and the processes that surround everything, but have you considered what will direct the system?
A Warehouse Control System (WCS) is the interface between your Warehouse Management System (enterprise planning) and the control of your material handling equipment. Besides acting as the gateway between the two systems, the WCS can perform functions such as order management, workflow balancing, visual display of information / material flows, and control of other material handling subsystems (pick-to- light, print and apply, etc.).
After determining the business requirements the WCS will need to satisfy, the decision must be made on whether to go with an integrator who owns a proprietary WCS product (the ‘big-box approach’) or to pursue variable solutions offerings from third-party controls houses being represented by the integrator.
Here are a few things to consider when making your selection:
Flexibility comes into play when integrating a WCS with machine controls from a variety of manufacturers (i.e. scanners / cameras, PLCs, sensing devices, etc.). When comparing an integrator’s proprietary WCS to a third-party controls house WCS, you should consider which is more customizable and more adept at interfacing with any make of device in the system. Customizing a WCS typically requires a more collaborative effort between you and the controls vendor’s engineering team during the Functional Design phase. Ultimately, this collaboration usually allows for more flexibility in the final design versus a more prescriptive system. Having that initial flexibility in the WCS allows for the software’s functions to be more easily tailored to your specific needs.
The second thing to consider is whether or not the WCS you’re reviewing was developed in an open source platform. An open source platform means the source code is freely available and may be modified by others, if necessary. The practicality of this arrangement is that you, with the right staff in place, will be able to make minor modifications on-demand without having to incur the costs or the scheduling of a full-blown project with any integrator or third-party controls house involvement.
While an integrator with a proprietary WCS may appear to provide ‘one-throat- to-choke’ responsibility for the entire system, and the integrator offering a selection of third-party WCS solutions may not appear to offer that same level of ‘ownership’ responsibility, you should consider that any WCS typically must integrate with a system containing equipment and controls from a variety of manufacturers. Consequently, selecting the WCS you require shouldn’t be based on whether or not the integrator ‘owns’ the WCS and is providing ‘one-throat- to-choke’ if something goes wrong. The question should be, who will be the best at integrating the WCS throughout the system, and who can support the functionality of the WCS in the system after the sale and the installers are gone?
Most integrators and third-party controls houses offer similar aftermarket support plans with similar costs. However, while the convenience of calling one company for all solutions is attractive, you should consider what level of aftermarket support you require. If you have an adept mechanical staff, then perhaps the support from a third-party controls house makes more sense because the advantage of having ‘one-throat- to-choke’ is mitigated by your own experience and abilities. Now if you don’t have an experienced staff, then it might make more sense to pursue an integrator’s proprietary system and the support plan accompanying it.
Additionally, if and when you’re reviewing the aftermarket support plans, consider which WCS provider is offering direct access to the engineers and technicians personally involved in your project. These professionals are more knowledgeable about your system and will most likely be more motivated to serve you than someone answering calls on a help-desk.
In conclusion…when evaluating WCS solutions providers, be it an integrator offering their proprietary system or an integrator bringing a variety of third-party control house options to the table, make sure you consider the flexibility, practicality, and responsibility associated with each offering. When you consider these factors it should be evident that it doesn’t matter if the integrator ‘owns’ the WCS in the beginning, what matters in the end, is that you ‘own’ a WCS that optimizes your operation and system’s performance.