The Mobile Technology Revolution and Productivity in the Warehouse

Technology is evolving around us at an extremely face pace. It is evident even in our everyday lives. We went from computers taking up entire rooms, to sitting on a desk, to fitting in our pockets and now, laying on our wrists. Start-up companies are innovating new technologies faster than ever and are, in turn, forcing long existing Fortune 500 companies to push for greater advancements. This leads to exciting new creations – especially in the warehousing space. I am going to touch on just one of these innovative technologies that you may already be using in your warehouse. If you are not utilizing this technology you will soon realize why it is an area you should begin exploring. I am going to discuss mobile technologies inside the four walls of a distribution facility – specifically around picking.

If I suggested that you upgrade every RF unit in your warehouse to a new android-based mobile device, what would be your first reaction? Excited to try something new or skeptical to change? In my experience, many companies are hesitant to explore different options such as this upgrade, simply because the usage of existing RF units are ‘the way it’s always been’.

Changing to a more flexible device creates many opportunities for a warehouse, the first of which is price point. The standard RF unit you see in most facilities will run anywhere from one to two thousand dollars each, even if they are running on older technology. An up to date android-based device will run just a few hundred dollars each. This lowers the upfront cost of purchasing devices if you are opening a Greenfield site. Likewise, replacement costs for each individual device end up being a fraction of the cost.

Second, mobile devices bring a comforting familiarity in today’s society. 92% of adults between the ages of 18 and 29 own a smartphone as of 2016. A vast majority of adults in that same age group have never handled a standard RF device, let alone seen one in person. The familiarity of using a smartphone-like device in the warehouse leads to quicker ramp up time in training and larger acceptance amongst the workforce.  We have seen a considerable adoption of new technology, especially amongst a young workforce, when you allow them to use the device they use daily at their place of work.

Third, these devices often offer extreme flexibility and customization. More and more Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) and Labor Management Systems (LMS) are updating their software to make optimal use of mobile devices. This allows the system to display detailed information that provides supplementary value to the user. Instead of being limited to an 8 by 20-character screen, you have the ability to display large text, bold text, highlighted text, pictures and more! Is it easier for a user to read a 20 character partial description of a SKU or see a visual picture of the SKU they should be picking? This could lead to a more satisfied end user experience and a potential reduction in picking errors. To further create an ideal end user experience, bring Android’s open sourced software to an in-house development team or a trusted outsourced development team like the one we have at Bricz. We can assist you in taking full advantage by writing custom programs and functionality to tie into your picking systems. The flexibility and customization here extend well beyond your normal WMS or LMS systems.

Finally, mobile devices play an enormous role in equipping your supervisors to better manage the areas of your warehouse. Supervisors can roam the warehouse floor with tablets that give them access to both the UI and RF functions of the system as well as reporting and LMS systems. This allows supervisors to spend more time on the floor, working directly with associates rather than sitting behind a desk in an office. Getting your supervisors on the floor, interacting with associates, running live reports and gathering up to date feedback on metrics and labor standards will improve the efficiency of your operations.

You can create numerous opportunities by making the switch to new age technology and creating mobility inside the four walls of the DC. Innovation is a positive force, especially in the world of warehousing where gaining an edge over competitors can lead to improved customer satisfaction and a reduction in cost.

Contributor: D. Tyler Linderman, Supply Chain Leader & Alliances at Bricz

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