Software: 60 seconds with Tom Lagaly

Productivity Alliance's Tom Legaly talks to Modern about the state of warehouse control systems (WCS).

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Tom Lagaly, Productivity Alliance
Title: Managing principal
Location: Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Experience: 43 years in materials handling and materials handling automation
Primary Focus: Implementation of integrated systems that generate productivity gains by leveraging real-time software functionality.

Modern: Tom, you have been around the materials handling industry for a long time. How are today’s warehouse control systems (WCS) different from systems in the past?
Lagaly: The first system I ever worked on was for Kroger in 1969, where we installed the first bar code reader in a warehouse in this country. We wanted to track specific cartons from the sorter to a dock door. Our WCS back then was mechanical. We had this big box with eight wheels, one for each sorter divert. A steel ball would be released to a sorter divert and a wheel would turn at a speed that was synchronized with the movement of the carton on the conveyor. At some point, it would trip a switch that would fire the divert. The amazing thing is, that system worked for 15 years. Since then, we had the introduction of microprocessors in the 1970s and then programmable logic controllers (PLCs). We are now seeing systems with increasing levels of real-time responsibility, millisecond control, flexibility and the ability to generate real-time workload plans based on what is happening in the building.

Modern: How are today’s WCS systems enhancing automated materials handling?
Lagaly: You get a certain level of productivity from any mechanical device that moves a product from point A to point B. The productivity gains you generate from then on can only be done through intelligence. That’s what a WCS adds.

Modern: What type of operations or order profiles are candidates for a WCS system?
Lagaly: First, you need to have some level of automation. After that, it’s any system with split-case or piece-picking requirements. Piece picking uses the greatest amount of labor and generates the most mistakes. The second candidate is a retailer or wholesaler with an Internet presence. The last is any system that is doing a lot of crossdocking. You really want millisecond-level control and you get that from a warehouse management system (WMS).

Modern: There are WCS suppliers who argue that in an automated facility they can do everything a WMS does. It’s controversial. But, do you think companies still need a WMS?
Lagaly: If a company has a really good ERP system, it will have modules that can handle inventory control, the allocation of inventory to orders, yard management and transportation management. In that case, I would say you just need a WCS on steroids to do the order fulfillment. If you don’t have a good ERP, a WMS needs to be in the mix. But, I would keep it vanilla with few modifications. If you do that, you’ll have a good, cost-effective order fulfillment engine that will optimize your automated systems.  M


About the Author

Bob Trebilcock
Bob Trebilcock, editorial director, has covered materials handling, technology, logistics and supply chain topics for nearly 30 years. In addition to Supply Chain Management Review, he is also Executive Editor of Modern Materials Handling. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.

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