If you are running a warehouse or a Distribution Center (DC), I am sure you ran into the ubiquitous scan gun. Not only you see this all the time, but also sometimes you see this in the least expected places, for example all the way on the 7th level of your racks in one of your pallet positions, sometimes even in the box that is destined to the customer, sometimes under some user’s desk, this user probably hid this, so he can have the best scan gun for himself/herself.
These scan guns are also called as the Bricks or the handhelds or the RF guns or the just the guns. These scan guns are the ones that are used to collect the data and input the data into the WMS or the ERP or any other inventory control system.
If your operation is so much dependent on these scan guns, it is very important to take a look at these guns in a serious manner, because there are lot of things that are changing, not only that but also if you are simply just using the old school scan guns with push buttons, you are leaving plenty of $$$ on the table, there is some serious opportunity for cost savings. The following are the reasons, why as a Warehouse Manager or a DC Manager you have to take a serious look at these scan guns.
End of Support for Windows CE
Windows CE is the operating system these handhelds are running and Microsoft is stopping support to these devices, the timeline is as below, If you’re running a Windows CE or Windows Embedded Handheld today, these are the dates to be aware of:
· June 10, 2018 – Windows Embedded CE 6.0 will be End of Life.
· June 9, 2019 – Windows Embedded 8.1 Handheld will be End of Life.
· January 14, 2020 – Windows Embedded Handheld 6.5 will be End of Life.
Which means If you are an enterprise customer, you don’t want to get stuck with old units that are left with the software that is end of life. Also are you buying refurb units? Pay attention to the software aspect of the refurb units.
Android Emerging as the alternative
With Windows CE going into End of life, Android is emerging as the next alternative. With Android being such a flexible system, enterprises can leverage android for deployment within their IT infrastructure. But also make sure to choose the flexible vanilla Android something similar to the one that is running in your smart phone, as that version of Android provides the most flexibility. I am sure as an IT Manager supporting the DC’s, you want a flexible tool that can be easily made to work on other systems, when your ERP or WMS is changing. You don’t want to get stuck with an Android that is not flexible to the changing IT needs. Not only that, if the Android version is very flexible, if there is a need to make these devices work with any other system, it is as simple as writing another app to integrate the devices with this new system. And also keep in mind the build versus buy decision, if there is a vendor that is supporting that vanilla version of Android, it makes a lot of sense to buy, rather than build it in house. Also this Android based mobile solution could be the Mobile Supply Chain Platform for your entire Supply Chain.
Technology has evolved a lot – Much more efficient & flexible Wearables
If you really look at the history of the RF handhelds, they are essentially made for Retail Stores. These devices made a lot of sense for the retail stores, because the retail store associate needed a device that will work in the store? So, the associate can easily count the product and reflect the true inventory count, such that the replenishments to the store are accurate, efficiency was not so much a concern while doing this in a retail store, because the primary task for the Retail store associate was to serve the customers that came in, while the inventory count and the making sure the inventory is accurate on the shelf was secondary (which is changing now big time, which we will discuss in another blog). So it was natural when there was need to do this in the back office, within the closed doors in the storage area of the retail store, the handheld easily became the go to tool for the associate. This gradually extended to the warehouse as well. When there is a tool that worked well, that integrated with the right systems, that everyone knew how to use etc, it was a no brainer, hey let us use this tool wherever we need this data collection to be done, it was easily the preferred choice for most warehouse managers.
But if you really take a step back and think about it, is this the right tool in a warehouse environment to be able to do all the tasks in an efficient manner?
The RF handheld device has the following disadvantages
1. Operators had to constantly keep it down and pick it back up, which resulted in wasted time.
2. As these devices were constantly kept down while the operator picked up the box or had to carry the box, the operators would drop them, which resulted in breakages.
3. Sometimes these devices were also shipped in boxes that were bound to customer destination.
4. Overall the device was very bulky resulting in operators getting wrist issues such as Tendinitis, nerve damage, carpal tunnel syndrome etc.
It was really not the most efficient tool, and I was not the first one to ask this question, as this question was asked back in the 1990s, as Symbol designed and launched the wrist mounted computer with the technology that was available at that time. (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/3436914_Wearable_computers_No_longer_science_fiction) ,
At that time, it was great, it worked pretty well, even though it had some pains, that are listed below.
1. The keyboard was pain to operate, the users will have to multi tap the keys to enter one character
2. The screen was so small, it was painful to see what was on the screen
3. The users literally were using these devices as a Gladiator weapon to block and hold the boxes in their arms, which resulted in damages to the device.
4. Some users did not like wearing them on their arm, as it was too heavy, especially for the ladies.
5. There were some nerve issues, tendinitis, extra stress in the wrists and the joints as well.
6. After sometime the users had to change batteries, so they would make trips to the battery station to change batteries at least 3 times a day.
7. The ring scanners that were used broke a lot, replacing them would cost around $800 per piece.
In spite of these pain points, the advantages are as below
1. Had some amount of hands free – meaning the users don’t have to constantly keep the device down and pick it back up
2. It was good where there was no need to enter any data through the keyboard, meaning the functions that required only scanning worked well
3. The device was not dropped as much as the RF handhelds, so the damage rate reduced
4. The device was not forgotten like the RF handhelds, RF handhelds were notoriously known for how easy it was to lose them, also sometimes the RF Handhelds were shipped to customers
Even though it had these advantages, this wearable that was developed back in the 1990s, did not get full adoption. There were some operators that liked them and used them, but there were many that hated them. The warehouse managers wanted their operators to use them, but they never succeeded in getting their operators to use them. The change management was very hard, so most of the warehouse managers gave up on them. Also there were stories, where warehouse managers would buy them, but their operators wouldn’t use them and hence they had to switch all the wearables to RF handhelds.
But now that has changed significantly, there are wearables that are touch screen, hence they are super easy to use and super easy to learn, which means significant improvements in productivity and no more multiple weeks of training to temp workers and new employees.
Cost has come down
With the overall consumer mobile tech that has not only dramatically improved, but also with significantly advanced capabilities of these devices, there is plenty to take advantage of in this area of data collection. And these mobile devices are made at a much lesser price due to the economies of scale, compared to the purpose-built devices, deploying the rugged smart phones or data collection capabilities in the form of wearables is a very smart idea. Also the rugged smart phones have some very sophisticated sensors that can not only measure the number of steps that the operator is walking giving the warehouse managers insight into the unproductive travel time, but also providing feedback on the ergonomic movements the operators are performing, through which the warehouse managers can pay attention to the movements and hence can train operators in optimal movements resulting in faster picking operations and reduced accident incidents.
Data Collection has changed & IOT – Internet of Things
In the world today, everything is connected and everything is becoming smart. We have smart homes, smart cities, a smart grid and even smart transportation. Soon, a lot of our daily interactions will be with tools that have intelligence, including potentially refrigerators, bottles, food containers, clothes washers, clothes dryers, dishwashers, and more.
The impact of a supply chain that features ubiquitous connectivity and internet of things (IoT) is huge. At the same time, data collections strategies will have to evolve to really leverage all the potential data from a variety of sources, both in-house and external, in order to optimize monitoring and control.
Basically, data collection is changing big time in this new supply chain that. Data is not only captured through barcode scanning devices, but is also available in multiple forms, both for collection and consumption. This is getting even more complex in the connected world full of IoT components. Consider all the potential collection resources:
Cameras delivering pictures
Sensors such a temperature gauges, truck tire sensors, GPS sensors, machinery condition sensors, etc.
Sensors embedded in mobile devices such as accelerometers, pedometers, temperature sensors, etc.
Data from pictures
A picture is worth a thousand words. We are learning that in freight claim situation, pictures often seal the deal. Pictures help accomplish two major things: faster resolution of issues ownership in a claim situation (since there’s no waiting for an inspector to arrive) and a higher claim recovery higher (since it’s easier to clearly establish fault).
Data from sensors & RFID
IoT helps the supply chain a lot, especially in time and temperature sensitive situations. If a product is damaged by heat, for example, the logistics provider may be liable for the damage. Being able to closely monitor the condition of the goods being transported is valuable.
Data from devices in the supply chain processes
Today, mobile devices have all kinds of sensors, making it is possible to gather data on the number of steps walked by an operator. An abnormal amount of movement lets managers know that process needs to be optimized. Also, ergonomics can be monitored using the accelerometers.
Data from barcode scanning
Barcodes are already deeply embedded in supply chain process. Some scanners offer advanced-scanning capabilities but we’re still waiting for the game-changing idea for this space.
Pedigree of your work force has changed
If you are a warehouse manager, I am sure you are noticing the younger work force walking into your DC. If you are part of an older generation, where in your younger days, where there was a break at your work, people gathered around and talked a bit, or took a smoking break, whereas now the kids are constantly starting at the screens of their mobile devices. I have already written multiple blog posts on this topic – please take a look at this link here – https://www.ebnonline.com/author.asp?section_id=3743&doc_id=276608
Software is eating the world
We all know and have seen that software has been eating the world, it is jus that it has arrived a little to Supply Chain. The good thing with this is that, software does not have wear and tear, unlike hardware, so enabling capabilities with software reduces the cost and also increases the value add, because generally hardware design, development testing and manufacturing is very capital intensive, whereas software is relatively quick and inexpensive, hence capabilities can be built at a lower cost, but also the cost savings can be used to provide much more advanced capabilities that were not available before. Hence the devices with soft keyboards have many other capabilities that are much more sophisticated and provide quite a bit of insights are available at a lower cost. A simple example is compare the old school push button phone to the latest smart phone in all of our pockets.
So what do you think the opportunities are for your DC?
Do you see an opportunity for this initiative?
Take a serious look at your data collection strategy & tactic and let me know your thoughts.