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WMS vs. WCS vs. WES: Learn the differences

Companies often implement a WMS, then potentially add a WCS or a WES later. Learn more about WMS, WCS and WES as well as the differences between the three systems.

Meeting a company's needs for warehouse management requires the right combination of applications. A warehouse management system, warehouse control system, and warehouse execution system can all help organizations operate their warehouses more efficiently. Supply chain leaders should learn the differences between each to determine which systems will meet their needs.

Companies typically use a WMS, a WCS and a WES in conjunction with an ERP system. Companies often start by implementing a WMS, then decide whether or not to add a WCS or a WES. While some overlap in functionality exists between the three systems, each serves different purposes.

Learn more about WMS vs. WCS vs. WES.

What is a WMS?

A warehouse management system is an application that helps a company make its warehouse operations more efficient. A WMS focuses on receiving, storing, picking, packing and shipping. It can help companies plan and track warehouse labor.

A WMS might also help streamline processes involving carriers, such as receiving and shipping, to maximize throughput and reduce wait times. It can also improve restocking and inventory management.

A WMS interfaces with the company's ERP. The ERP pushes data, such as product information, to the WMS, and the WMS pushes data about financial transactions and inventory levels, among other information, to the ERP, which can help with reporting.

What is a WCS?

A warehouse control system's primary function is to manage automated machinery in real time to achieve the most throughput possible. The machinery that a WCS manages might include equipment for picking products, generating labels and fulfilling orders. A WCS integrates with a WMS.

A potential downside of a WCS is that the system might not account for the labor associated with a process nor maximize throughput across related but separate processes. However, WCS vendors continue to add new functionality that might have originally only been available as part of a WMS or WES. This can address these drawbacks.

What is a WES?

Like a WCS, a warehouse execution system can help manage warehouse equipment and adapt in real-time. However, a WES also includes functionality related to labor management and inventory control. It can carry out tasks such as rebalancing work if interdependent processes will not meet all equirements to complete an order.

For example, if a process consists of three steps, and the third step is not occurring as quickly as the other two, the WES can apply more labor to Step 3 while finding other work for Step 1 and Step 2 until the steps are aligned.

Adding a WES might be useful if a company's WMS lacks necessary functionality and supply chain leaders want to avoid replacing the WMS completely, since replacing a WMS is a major undertaking and disruptive to company operations. A company might also choose to use a WES in conjunction with its WCS to augment the functionality of the WCS.

WMS vs. WCS vs. WES

The three applications offer complementary functionality and can collectively improve a warehouse's operations.

Implementing a WCS and WES in addition to a WMS can further improve warehouse efficiencies because the systems focus on specific tasks, such as ensuring equipment operates in a way that makes processes run smoothly and limits downtime. A WES can also rebalance tasks to address all dependencies, such as labor needs and customer order demands.

Eric St-Jean is an independent consultant with a particular focus on HR technology, project management, and Microsoft Excel training and automation. He writes about numerous business and technology areas.

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