Central Pet, a national pet food distributor, was ready to automate its manual warehouse operations. With pet food and supply sales soaring, the company decided to meet its logistical challenges by installing an automated picking solution.
"What we had been using was inefficient, pretty much pushing a cart down an aisle--no scanners, no pick-to-light, no pick-to-voice," says Jeff May, operations manager for Central Pet, which is a business unit of Walnut Creek, CA-based Central Garden and Pet Co.
Central Pet turned to TriFactor LLC, a materials handling systems integrator based in Jacksonville, FL, to develop an interface between the conveyor control system and Central Pet's WCS (warehouse control system) to get them to "talk" to one another.
Jerry Lovell, TriFactor's senior electrical project engineer, worked with the information technology department at Central Pet to make the modifications necessary to get the information in and out of the system.
"There was no conveyor system in place at Central Pet--they were picking with order sheets and pallets, taking the order by hand and bringing it all the way up to shipping," says Lovell. "We created a new system that allowed them be more efficient and more organized. It was a big change for Central Pet. The system allowed them to cut the amount of time people had to work."
Introducing a WCS with a WMS (warehouse management system) often results in an overlap of functionality between systems. Where multiple software products make up the overall solution, there is usually some duplication of functionality between systems. This is inevitable as software vendors add more capabilities and extend the scope of their products.
For example, an ERP, WMS and WCS may all have an inventory control module. The basic functions of product movements are addressed in all three systems. But each system is focused on its own specific requirements. An ERP system uses inventory control for order promising, material and production planning and inventory valuation.
A WMS may select which warehouse is best suited to fulfill the order based on inventory availability and shipping location.
"The WCS is more focused on the activities within the warehouse relating to order fulfillment and shipping. Determining the best place to perform each distinct level of activity will avoid any conflict," says Jerry List, vice president of QC Software Inc., a warehouse controls provider in Cincinnati. "However, there are still areas of functional overlap. Each must be considered carefully for optimum system performance."
"The challenge at Central Pet was not symptomatic of other projects we have worked on because most already have a conveyor system in place," says Lovell. "We chose QC Software's WCS for Central Pet-- knew their WCS capabilities and how their software worked. It's very platform-independent, works well with different types of systems and is very cost efficient. TriFactor has used it for six or seven previous clients and I was confidant bringing them onboard for this project."
While warehouse control systems are not for every distribution model, QC Software's List acknowledges that when it is the right technology application there are numerous immediate benefits, including:
Flexibility in equipment purchase decisions: The ability to tie together equipment from multiple suppliers allows firms like Central Pet to purchase the best equipment for the facility instead of choosing all the equipment from a single supplier.
Real-time operation: Because the WCS interacts with the MHE controllers in real-time, it instantly reacts to status information from the material handling equipment, making adjustments to maintain an efficient product flow.
System redundancy: In many cases, the WMS/ERP system is not physically located at the warehouse. This is particularly true when there are multiple warehouses in different geographical locations. In the event of communication problems, the warehouse stops working. Since the WCS is always located at the warehouse, it can maintain warehouse operations in the event that the connection between the warehouse and the corporate WMS/ERP system goes down.