August 18, 2023
August 18, 2023

Warehouse Control Systems (WCS): Ultimate Guide

Discover the role of a warehouse control system. Learn about the difference between WMS and WCS, explore the power of warehouse control software and how AutoStore integrates with WCS.


In this article, we will delve into the world of warehouse control systems, exploring their warehouse and business benefits, components, implementation, and integration with other smart systems.

What is a Warehouse Control System (WCS)?

A warehouse control system serves as the technological backbone of a warehouse, orchestrating and synchronizing a myriad of complex tasks to create a seamless and highly efficient operation. From inventory tracking and storage optimization to order routing and resource allocation, WCS acts as the nerve center that brings together automated equipment, Warehouse Management Systems, and real-time data analytics.

What are the key features of a Warehouse Control System?

At its core, a warehouse control system is designed to enhance both the speed and accuracy of warehouse processes. By automating various routine tasks, such as inventory replenishment, picking, and sorting, WCS minimizes errors, reduces labor costs, and enables businesses to operate at a much larger scale without compromising efficiency. Moreover, WCS empowers warehouse managers with real-time visibility into the entire operation, providing valuable insights to optimize workflows, identify bottlenecks, and make data-driven decisions.

The primary objective of a WCS is to maximize operational efficiency by managing and optimizing the flow of goods. It accomplishes this through several key functions:

Task Execution: The warehouse control system receives tasks from the warehouse management system (WMS) and assigns them to specific material handling equipments (MHE) or workstations within the warehouse. Moreover, it optimizes task allocation based on factors such as equipment availability, proximity to products, and workload balancing.

Equipment Control: The WCS directly interfaces with the automated equipment, issuing commands to control their movements, speeds, and actions. It ensures that the right equipment is at the right place and time to facilitate efficient order fulfillment, inventory replenishment, and other warehouse activities.

Real-time Monitoring: The WCS continuously monitors the status and performance of MHE and other connected devices, collecting data on productivity, equipment health, and operational metrics. This real-time visibility enables proactive maintenance, performance optimization, and exception handling.

Workflow Optimization: By analyzing data from the warehouse floor and making intelligent decisions, the WCS can optimize workflows, dynamically adjust task priorities, and minimize idle time or congestion. It helps in reducing bottlenecks, maximizing throughput, and achieving higher levels of productivity.

Integration and Communication: Finally, a WCS integrates with various systems and technologies, including the WMS, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software, barcode scanners, sensors, and other hardware. It facilitates seamless communication and data exchange between these systems, ensuring accurate and timely information flow across the warehouse ecosystem.

WCS integrates with barcode scanners, sensors, and other hardware.

How does a WCS differ from a WMS, and how do they work together?

A warehouse control system (WCS) is a specialized software application that serves as the central intelligence and coordination hub within a warehouse or distribution center. It acts as a bridge between the higher-level Warehouse Management System (WMS) and the various automated equipment and systems on the warehouse floor.

While the WMS focuses on higher-level inventory management, order processing, and overall warehouse optimization, the WCS is responsible for the real-time control and coordination of material handling equipment (MHE), such as conveyor systems, sorters, automated guided vehicles (AGVs), robotic arms, and other machinery. It interacts with these devices to ensure efficient and synchronized movement of goods throughout the warehouse.

In summary, they work together to streamline and optimize the entire warehouse ecosystem, with the WMS handling higher-level tasks and the WCS managing the real-time execution and control of warehouse operations.

WCS controls and coordinates material handling equipment such as conveyor systems. Learn about PUMAs automated warehouse which has AutoStore with integrated conveyor technology.

Business benefits of implementing a WCS

As companies face increasing pressure to meet the growing demands of customers in the digital era, the adoption of warehouse control systems has become a strategic imperative. By harnessing the power of WCS, businesses can optimize their supply chain, deliver products faster, reduce costs, and ultimately provide an exceptional customer experience.

Below, we’ve listed some of the main business benefits of implementing a warehouse control system:

  • Operational Efficiency: Through real-time monitoring and data-driven insights, it identifies bottlenecks, optimizes workflows, and dynamically adjusts task priorities. By providing actionable visibility into the performance of Material Handling Equipment (MHE), labor, and other resources, a WCS enables efficient resource allocation and minimizes idle time. Also, it optimizes routes for MHE, reduces congestion, and enhances overall operational efficiency.
  • Real-Time Visibility: One of the primary benefits of a warehouse control system is its ability to optimize inventory management. By offering real-time visibility into inventory levels, locations, and demand patterns, a WCS enables accurate demand forecasting and efficient stock rotation. This helps businesses maintain optimal inventory levels, minimize carrying costs, and avoid stockouts or overstock situations.
  • Improved Accuracy: Reduces errors in order fulfillment, enhancing customer satisfaction.
  • Optimal Resource Utilization: WCS maximizes labor, equipment, and space efficiency. It automates routine tasks, assigns work to warehouse employees, and provides guidance based on real-time demands and skill sets. This allows warehouse managers to make data-driven decisions, monitor employee performance, and allocate resources more efficiently.
  • Optimized order fulfillment: WCS streamlines processes involved in picking, sorting, and packing. The system continuously optimizes task allocation, routing, and prioritization based on real-time data, equipment availability, and workload balancing. This translates into faster order processing, improved customer satisfaction, and increased sales.
  • Scalability and Flexibility: Adapts to changing business needs and accommodates growth.
  • Seamless Integration: Integrates with other systems for smooth data flow and coordination.
  • Data-Driven Insights: Analyzes real-time data for informed decision-making and optimization.

By leveraging WCS, businesses can gain a competitive edge in today's fast-paced and dynamic supply chain landscape. The improved efficiency associated with WCS ultimately contributes to cost savings, revenue growth, and enables businesses to maximize the return on their warehouse operations.

How does a WCS interface with other automated systems and equipment?

A WCS interfaces with various automated systems and equipment, such as conveyors, sorters, or robotic picking systems, through seamless integration and communication. The WCS acts as the central hub that connects with these automated systems to facilitate efficient coordination and control.

Through standardized communication protocols and interfaces, the WCS establishes a bi-directional data exchange with the automated equipment. It receives real-time data information from the systems, such as equipment status, availability, and capabilities, which allows the WCS to make informed decisions and optimize tasks accordingly.

Similarly, the WCS sends commands and instructions to the automated systems to direct their movements, speeds, and actions. It provides task assignments, routing information, and prioritization instructions to ensure efficient material flow and synchronized operations.

Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI)

In the era of new technologies, modern warehouse control systems solutions often incorporate advanced technologies such as machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI), and predictive analytics. These capabilities enable the WCS to learn from historical data, make intelligent decisions, and optimize operations based on predictive models. This results in further efficiencies, improved resource allocation, and better decision-making for warehouse managers.

How does AutoStore hardware integrate with WCS?

In this section, we'll explore the technical intricacies of how AutoStore integrates with a Warehouse Control System (WCS), shedding light on how these two components work seamlessly together to optimize your warehouse operations. AutoStore offers two integration methods to facilitate this integration: an Extensible Markup Language (XML)-based API via HTTP POST requests and a Streaming interface via a TCP/IP server with Comma-Separated Values (CSV) known as the log publisher.

With these methods as outlined below, AutoStore can integrate with any type of WCS on the market.

XML Interface for System Control

AutoStore's integration with WCS begins with the XML interface, providing precise control over the AutoStore system. Within this technical interface, there are two primary levels:

  • Task interface
  • Bin interface

Task Interface

By integrating with the AutoStore task interface, the WCS optimizes picking tasks. It does this by organizing picking lists into task groups, where each group represents a set of inventory Bins to be picked together. If, for example, three different inventory Bins are required to fulfill one order, the system organizes this into one task group.

The task groups can be organized and grouped based on priorities, handling requirements, and/or shipment properties (for example, all products to be picked should be sent to the same postal code). The sequencing and grouping within task groups are determined by task properties.

At the Ports (Workstations), where the items are being picked by a human warehouse worker, AutoStore software takes over and handles the task groups created by the WCS. To optimize throughput, AutoStore typically manages the flow of Bins based on task group priorities created by the WCS. However, to enhance efficiency, the system may occasionally select lower-priority tasks when higher-priority Bins are unavailable or blocked by other jobs, ensuring there are no waiting times at the Ports (Workstations).

Warehouse worker at a red AutoStore workstation, wearing a red hoodie, picking items from an inventory Bin that is managed by AutoStore software
At the Ports, AutoStore software manages the flow of Bins to optimize throughput. To optimize throughout, it takes into account the task groups created by the WCS, but also other other variables in the overall warehouse operation.

Bin Interface

By integrating with the AutoStore Bin interface, the WCS can manage two essential queues:

  • Preparation Queue: The queue of inventory Bins that require immediate accessibility.
  • Port Queue: The queue of inventory Bins that are due to be delivered to specific Ports (Workstations).

To ensure smooth operations, the WCS must effectively group Bins and resolve conflicts that may arise when multiple Ports (Workstations) request the same Bin. This decision-making process takes into account the physical location of the Bins and their preparation status, all with the aim of achieving peak performance within the warehouse.

In essence, AutoStore takes charge of the flow of Bins through the Task Interface, while the WCS decides the flow of Bins through the Bin Interface.

Log Publisher Interface for Monitoring

For real-time technical insights into your AutoStore system's performance, AutoStore captures every action within its system using the AutoStore Log, accessible through the Log Publisher Interface. This interface caters to external modules, including your Warehouse Control System (WCS), allowing for in-depth monitoring of the event stream.

The Log Publisher Interface functions as a TCP/IP server, delivering the event stream to clients connecting to a specified Port (workstation). This stream comprises human-readable characters, conveniently viewable using a standard telnet client. Each event in the stream features an identifying tag and optional parameters, separated by commas and terminated by a newline (CRLF).

When a client establishes a connection through the Log Publisher Interface, it receives event segments that provide a technical snapshot of the AutoStore system's current state. This initial data transmission ensures your WCS has a comprehensive understanding of the system's intricate technical status.

By integrating AutoStore hardware with WCS through these powerful technical interfaces, your warehouse operations can achieve a new level of efficiency and precision, enhancing your overall productivity.


In summary, a warehouse control system (WCS) is a powerful solution that optimizes warehouse operations, enhances efficiency, and improves overall performance. By providing real-time visibility, streamlining workflows, and optimizing resource utilization, a WCS enables businesses to achieve accurate inventory management, efficient order fulfillment, and seamless control of automated systems. With its ability to drive cost savings, increase productivity, and enhance customer satisfaction, a WCS is a vital tool for modern warehouses aiming to stay competitive and achieve operational excellence in the dynamic supply chain landscape.



What does a warehouse control system do?

A warehouse control system optimizes warehouse operations, coordinates tasks, and controls material handling equipment to improve efficiency and productivity.

What is the difference between WMS and WCS?

A Warehouse Management System (WMS) focuses on inventory management, order processing, and overall warehouse optimization. A warehouse control system(WCS) specializes in real-time control and coordination of material handling equipment (MHE) and automated systems within the warehouse.

What is the difference between WCS and WES?

A warehouse control system (WCS) focuses on the control and coordination of material handling equipment within a warehouse. A Warehouse Execution System (WES) is a broader system that encompasses WCS functionality while also managing tasks, labor, and workflows throughout the warehouse.In the ever-evolving landscape of supply chain management, businesses are constantly seeking innovative solutions to optimize their warehouse operations. Especially with the relentless growth of e-commerce, the need for efficient inventory management and order fulfillment has become paramount. This is where warehouse control software (WCS) step in, revolutionizing the way warehouses operate and helping companies achieve unparalleled levels of productivity and customer satisfaction.

Does AutoStore have a WCS?

AutoStore can be integrated with WCS software. The WCS software is usually supplied by AutoStore partners.

What types of WCS can AutoStore be integrated with?

AutoStore can be integrated with all WCS solutions available in the market.

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