When searching for technology to improve warehouse operations, it’s tempting to dive right in and see what the market has to offer. However, we’re convinced this is not the right way to approach this major business decision. We suggest that in the quest for the perfect technology for your warehouse, you put all thoughts of that technology aside for the time being and concentrate instead on your business needs. What are the challenges you need the technology to solve? And what specific working conditions need to be taken into account?
Adopting this approach is going to help keep the focus on solving your specific challenges when you do start looking at the market. It will also help keep you on budget by potentially avoiding attractive but costly features that will do little to improve your warehouse operations.
Here are the main things to consider before you begin your search.
What do you need the devices for?
Your answer will almost certainly include barcode data capture. However, there are ‘horses for courses’. If you’re reading a high volume of barcodes and RFID tags every day, speed and accuracy will be paramount – and enterprise models will be the way to go. According to Zebra Technologies, tests show that enterprise-level readers capture barcodes 20-50 times faster than consumer equivalents, which often use the device camera instead of a dedicated barcode scanner. But it’s not just about speed. Will you need to capture 1D and 2D barcodes? Is capturing data and measuring metrics in real time important to you?
Of course, there will be more to your rugged tech requirements than barcodes. You may need the device to take signatures, photograph damage on received goods, print labels and perhaps act as a two-way radio to enhance team communications. Draw up that wish list as precisely as possible before your search begins.
And think long-term. Perhaps you will need certain functions in the future to improve warehouse operations? Planning ahead will future proof your investment.
How will your workers use devices?
Ask these questions about how your employees will access and use devices when working:
- Will they wear gloves? Many devices have high-sensitivity touch screens or physical buttons to ensure this isn’t a problem.
- Will they need both hands to work? If so, choose wearable technology and voice-activated applications.
- Will they be moving in and out of vehicles, for instance forklifts? Ensure robust mounting options are available, so a device can be clipped in and pulled out swiftly.
- Do they need to access barcodes in awkward spaces? Look out for models with long-range scanners or small-form factors, for quick and easy scanning.
- Are many of your people seasonal workers? According to this report, using the familiar Android operating system will potentially save you days of time training employees.
What unique challenges does your workplace present?
Warehouses are not friendly environments for mobile devices. Your tech may need to deal with countless drops, spills, extreme temperatures and contact with hazardous substances. In the age of COVID-19, withstanding harsh cleaning regimes with chemical-based wipes will also be a factor.
But there’s good news. Unlike consumer devices, reputable enterprise-level devices go through incredibly robust stress tests. Look out for MIL-STD-810G-certified devices. This U.S. Military Standard certification method can be deployed to test devices across many criteria including drops, dust contamination, extreme cold and more. There are various types and levels of protection that qualify for the standard, so read carefully and assess your needs against a device’s MIL-STD-810G certification.
Finally, what combination of WiFi, mobile data or Bluetooth will you need to ensure your device will be operational both inside and outside your building?
What are your power needs?
Devices that have run out of battery provide zero functionality, slow down operations and frustrate your workforce. Therefore, you need to think about hard what battery requirements you’ll need to keep your people working.
If workers are regularly on the move and won’t have access to charging bays, you’ll need the extended battery life enterprise devices offer (up to 14 hours of hard work for some models).
But it’s not just about high-capacity batteries. Some models feature a warm swop mode, which allows users to change a battery without having to power down the device or close apps. Others will offer the convenience of ‘pogo’ charging pins, so they can be swiftly dropped into a cradle to charge, removing the need to fiddle with wires. Meanwhile, battery metrics will give you advanced warning of underperforming or failing batteries. All of these power features can help to keep warehouse operations running smoothly.
Finally, don’t forget your chargers. Brands that also offer multislot charging accessories will keep more phones powering up and save your employees from hunting for a free connection.
What level of support and repair do you need?
Are you happy hanging on for a week or even several weeks for vital repairs, or waiting on a support line while interminable music plays? It’s a leading question, of course, and the answer will almost certainly be no. If your warehouse is relying on tech to function, then problems need to be solved quickly to ensure continued productivity.
Reputable providers will offer certified repairs with authorised parts, and security and software/firmware updates. Many will also offer various types of repair plans, with options to suit your budget. The gold standard – and most expensive – will be around-the-clock support, and next business day ‘like new’ device replacement loaded with all your apps and settings.
While a more modestly priced three-day repair turnaround may well be fine for you, think carefully; you’ll need to weigh up the loss of business any downtime will incur against the price of any plan.
How is this new tech meeting your sustainability targets?
When it comes to warehouse operations, it’s clear that enterprise-level technology far outperforms consumer equivalents. The good news for your corporate social responsibility commitments is that it will also be a far more sustainable option . Here’s why.
Consumer devices are designed for rapid turnover. After 12 months, a new model may supersede the previous one, with limited support thereafter for the legacy devices. By contrast, the best enterprise solutions will have a longer life cycle. For instance, one provider we work with typically makes their devices available to purchase for a minimum of three years, with operating system support available for a further three years after they are retired from sale. Some of their models are even available for sale for five years, with a further five years of operating system support. In this case, there’s a full decade of support, considerably extending the shelf life.
Finally, enterprise devices are likely to be backwards compatible with accessories such as cables, charging cradles and batteries. This will reduce your need for additional purchases if you upgrade.
Of course, once you begin actively researching technology for improving warehouse operations, you may find additional features and benefits you’ll want to add to your ‘wish list’. But start by answering the questions in this post and you’ll maintain a tight focus on what you’ll really need to improve productivity.
Nuffield Technologies can help introduce the right rugged technologies to your warehouse operations, to maximise profits and productivity. We offer preferential rates on hardware from leading enterprise brands and can design bespoke software and apps tailored to your unique needs.