Food and beverage companies looking to improve warehouse operations will often consider implementing at least one of the most common warehouse systems—warehouse management systems (WMS), warehouse control systems (WCS) or warehouse execution systems (WES).

In order to determine which system best meets your company’s needs, it is important to understand the purpose and functionality of each solution.

Warehouse management systems defined
A WMS is a highly specialized business application that controls the flow of inventory into, within and out of a company’s warehouse, distribution center (DC) or multiple facilities. A WMS enables multiple, important warehouse functions, including the ability to verify receipts, put away inventory, replenish inventory to a forward pick location, complete cycle counts, hard allocate inventory to an order (to be picked), consolidate orders on a dock, create pack slips and more.

For food companies, the inventory control feature is likely the most valuable because it enables companies to track, trace and control inventory across multiple locations, channels and customers. This is especially important for brand protection, as recalls can be handled swiftly by lot number, enabling companies to recall contaminated goods at the item level, often before they hit the store shelf and the recall becomes public.

Additional WMS functionality key to food and beverage includes the ability to set rules around and manage first-in/first-out (FIFO), last-in/last-out (LIFO), first-expiry/first-out (FEFO) and last-expiry/last-out (LEFO). These capabilities help food and beverage companies become more responsive to meet quality assurance and customer service requirements.

Other features of a WMS include:

·         Voice-enabled radio frequency (RF) devices

·         Carrier-compliant or retailer-compliant labels

·         Wireless data terminals (RF devices)

·         Bar-coded pallets, cases and item labels

·         Radio frequency identification tags (RFID)

·         Conveyor systems/material handling equipment


Note that the more mechanized for batch or continuous food processing a company becomes, the less the organization will need a WMS.

Warehouse control systems defined
A WCS is a solution that manages the mechanization/automation, and controls the unit of measure (item, case, pallet) and route orders based upon logic and rules. Features include the ability to exchange real-time communication, command processing, discrete equipment signals and the optimization of material.Currently, there is plenty of WMS functionality not included in a typical WCS, but as time goes on, more WCS vendors are adding more and more WMS capabilities. Highly-automated facilities are usually ideal candidates for WCS.

Features of a WCS often include:

·         Fixed scanner integration

·         Machine control integration

·         In-line scales

·         In-line print and apply

·         Pack sort management

·         Ship sort management

·         Automated pick management

·         Pick-to-light and put-to-light management

·         Automated conveyor zone skipping

·         Mobile scanner integration

Warehouse execution systems defined
Of the three systems being defined, a WES is the newest to enter the scene. It was developed to extend the capabilities of a WCS.

A small or mid-sized omni-channel food company may benefit from a WES because it helps to manage fulfillment both to consumers and to stores.

Typical functions of a WES include:

·         Basic receiving

·         Shipping management

·         Replenishment management

·         Small parcel manifesting

·         Non-automated pick management

·         Voice data capture

·         Inventory management

·         Mobile scanner integration

·         Pack-sort management

·         Ship-sort management

·         Automated pick management

·         Pick-to-light management

·         Automated zone skipping

·         Mobile scanner integration

Which system should be selected?
When it comes to warehouse systems, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. While that might be discouraging, it’s actually good news. This means food companies can invest in the system(s) that best meet its specific needs. Not all companies need to invest in all three systems or even two.

When attempting to decide which system is right for your specific business, there are some things to consider. Is your facility automated and how much automation is required? How does inventory move through the facility, and how much inventory do you have? How many facilities and end users are involved?

The right partner can help you develop the best processes and a technology strategy, evaluate and select the optimal system(s) based on native functionality and architecture and help develop and implement a systems strategy that will meet your requirements today and into the future.