The introduction of mobile computing platforms like Android and iOS, supported by a strong developer network and a slew of hardware vendors has led to an explosion in wearable devices. Some of these like wearable eyeglasses, fitness trackers and integrated voice headsets have found their way into the modern DC, where they have immense potential to drive efficiencies and reduce costs
Technology has undoubtedly revolutionized warehouse order picking in the last few decades. In a significant move from antiquated paper-based picking, we now have a variety of devices that can integrate with Warehouse Management Systems to execute warehouse operations seamlessly. These include handheld scanners, wrist scanners and voice-based picking devices. Each of these have their own relative merits and demerits. Some offer more ergonomic advantages over others while compromising on ease of use. For example, a Motorola 9190 handheld scanner comes with a full A-Z keypad providing ease of input with fewer keystrokes but is rather bulky for fast picking. In contrast, a Zebra wearable terminal offers ergonomic advantages to assist with picking fast, but the keypad is comparably less functional. Sometimes these devices need to be used in combination with each other. For example, in a pick to tote operation, the operator may need to carry a handheld scanner to scan tote barcodes in addition to a voice headset for picking. There unfortunately is no “One Size Fits All” solution.
Modern wearables hold the promise to change this in addition to offering other benefits. Let’s take wearable smart glasses as a case in point. This technology is already offering vision-based picking solutions where the operator wears eyeglasses with an integrated camera, microphone, micro display, earphone and biometric sensor. Task information is readily displayed to the operator through the micro display that beams an image onto their retina. Using just hand gestures, the operator is then able to select options on the screen, while the camera captures the image of a SKU, Tote or Location barcode and process it instantaneously with high performance APIs, constantly providing auditory feedback through the earphone – all while both of the operator’s hands free to push a cart, drive a vehicle and handle inventory. This clearly has the potential to increase labor efficiency and throughput while also requiring fewer keystrokes than traditional devices. Leading WMS vendors have already integrated their solutions with Google glass to pilot this technology at several Distribution Centers.
The increasing adoption of Warehouse Execution Systems (WES) also offers great scope for Wearables. Technologies like Low Energy Bluetooth (LEB) Beacons are strategically placed inside the DC to help create a 3D coordinate grid of the facility, much like the Global Positioning System –more precise and localized. This technology can help determine an operator’s location accurate to within 2 feet and in conjunction with the WES, can provide navigational feedback to their wearable device for the shortest route to destination, pick path and task interleaving. In addition, the usage of Augmented Reality solutions provides visual feedback by highlighting a specific piece or location, providing a Pokemon Go like feature to the operator’s headset with the potential for real-life performance improvements within the DC.
Another area where wearables are showing promise is fitness trackers like Fitbit. This provides a low-cost ability to track an operator’s travel within the DC by measuring the number of steps the operator has walked in a timeframe, allowing for insights into how operators move around the DC and minimizing wasteful travel.
A significant impediment to these promising technologies has been cost of hardware and implementation. Added to this, some companies are resistant to change. These devices are yet to gain wide adoption and this time are only being piloted, albeit with promising results. Again, there is no one solution that will serve everyone the same. The size and complexity of the DC operation plays a big role in deciding what customers will choose. As with any new technology in its infancy, wearables in the DC are expected to become more affordable in short order, with great potential for leaner and more human friendly operations. At Bricz, we’ve learned about and implemented viable wearables within a wide range of DC’s. Contact us now to learn how Bricz can help you find the best fit for your warehousing needs!
Contributor: Deepak Mohan