How Rugged Mobile Computers Will Transform Businesses in the Next 5 Years

Connected dots symbolising the connected future for rugged mobile computers

In the years ahead, rugged mobile computers will play a key role in helping to solve several perennial business challenges.

Solutions range from stemming the tide of counterfeit and pirated goods (projected to cost 5.4 million jobs by 2022) to significantly reducing the amount of food spoiled in the supply chain.

We look at five of the most notable developments on the horizon and reveal the benefits they are likely to bring to businesses, and their employees and customers.

1) Barcode scanners will help to secure supply chain integrity

From goods incorrectly labelled organic to unethically sourced blood diamonds, unscrupulous (and sometimes oblivious) traders are flooding the market with produce that is not quite what it seems.

In the months and years ahead, issues of supply chain authenticity and provenance will be tackled with rugged mobile computers’ barcode scanners. With a little help from blockchain technology, sensors, and IOT (Internet of Things)…

Here’s how it works.

Currently, barcodes and/or radio-frequency identification (RFID) are used in more sophisticated supply chains to track items. However, they rely on centralised certificate authorities and databases. These are insecure, because they have a single point of failure, making them open to insider fraud or cyber attacks.

Decentralised blockchain systems track a product back to its origin, and through every step of the supply chain. At each point, an RFID or NFC chip is scanned and a smart contract generated. Information is checked by multiple ‘trust nodes’ in the supply chain and written to the blockchain ledger. It is also cryptographically signed and encrypted, to make fraud and hacking almost impossible. This secure, transparent process makes it quickly possible to validate a product’s authenticity.

Traceability can be taken even further with the detailed information now available on a product’s provenance and history of movement through a supply chain. Location history is available via GPS coordinates, custody history from IDs, and environmental conditions during storage from temperature and accelerator data (the latter for damage assessment). This information is usually provided by IoT devices – a network of smart devices that collect and exchange data through an existing network infrastructure – and is stored, securely, on the blockchain.

Watch this space: your business’s rugged scanners are likely to play an important part in a revolution guaranteeing product provenance and authenticity.

2) Press to talk (PTT) rugged devices will make communicating quicker and easier

Press to talk (PTT) is a two-way radio technology that traditionally uses a land mobile radio (LMR) network. It’s often deployed by the emergency services and logistics organisations to provide the quick, one-push access to a colleague so often necessary in fast-moving operations.

PTT has been around in one form or another since the 1930s – and it shows. Compare the functionality of a conventional PTT device (basically a walkie-talkie) to a rugged mobile computer with its access to voice calls, emails, maps, cameras etc and it does seem like a somewhat antiquated, one-trick pony. However, PTT has retained its hold on the market because smartphones simply can’t compete with the one-push mechanism: launching a dialer app and then punching in a number is time-consuming by comparison. It also allows ‘one to many’ (group) communications, which a standard call doesn’t.

Zebra Technologies PTT Express app enables communications between compatible devices over your existing Wi-Fi network

This is why the launch of PTT rugged devices is a game-changer. This cost-effective tech offers PTT functionality over mobile networks, which have improved massively in terms of reach and reliability. Devices include programmable PTT buttons for instant voice communication ­even when the user is wearing gloves. Crucially, they also include the features of standard rugged phones, so users can send and receive data and enjoy all the functionality they offer.

Businesses can choose to invest in PTT mobile devices; or they can integrate apps such as Zebra’s PTT Express with compatible models, which is a cost-effective way of introducing the technology to a business.

3) Augmented reality will increase the ‘first-time fix’ rate for field workers

First-time fix rate – the proportion of issues solved on the first visit by an engineer – can have a huge effect on customer satisfaction, profitability and worker productivity. The good news for businesses is that augmented reality, in which computer-generated information is overlaid onto real-world environments, is likely to boost that fix rate considerably.

Here’s a scenario to illustrate its potential. A technician visits a customer to undertake a complex repair. Using a rugged mobile computer with an AR headset, they activate a service manual. This overlays 3D animations onto real-life components, providing instructions on assembly, disassembly or repair. These graphical displays over the real physical environment are clearer and easier to follow than a print or digital manual. In other words, it becomes easier to deliver that first-time fix.

AR technology can also be used to remotely assist customers and train technicians. It could even give accurate information about parts – such as serial numbers, the model, performance, expiry dates – by simply looking at them.

Augmented reality software allows field workers to overlay 3D animations onto machinery

A caveat. While many newer devices will already have AR software integrated into the OS, building AR solutions is currently expensive. This means rollout is limited to date. However, interest is building and we can expect to see AR become more widespread in the years ahead.

4) The Internet of Things will cut logistics supply waste

It is estimated that a staggering one third to one half of all food produced is wasted. However, recent advances in technology are likely to play a significant role in reducing this.

The Internet of Things is key here. To elaborate on our definition of IoT in point 1, these devices collect and exchange information through an existing network infrastructure, with each device being uniquely identifiable.

For food, IoT can play a part at the very beginning of the supply chain in the field. Smart sensors can help to monitor and protect crops, providing information that lead to better decisions around maximising yield. Next, in processing and distribution, smart sensors can monitor temperature every 30 seconds (for instance in warehouses or lorries) and even detect freshness using sensors that monitor for the presence of ethylene gas, which indicates spoilage. Product can then be redirected to the closest available location if necessary. The same temperature and spoilage tech can be used in-store to generate accurate ‘consume by’ dates.

Which leads us to rugged technology. Apps for rugged mobile computers offer immediate access to the sensor data, so product can be monitored and tracked. For instance, a user can receive alerts in case of a temperature problem. They can also receive detailed information for analysis, to ensure they are complying with food regulations.

Of course, we are just using food here as an example. Others perishables such as flowers and pharmaceuticals could benefit massively from this game-changing tech.

Expect more data, more analytics to track your goods, and more successfully shipped products.

5) Rugged devices will help businesses boost their sustainability credentials

Many companies put their sustainable and environmental credentials front and centre. And for good reason. According to one report, 64 per cent of millennials consider a company’s social and environmental commitments when deciding where to work.

Sustainability is key to attracting both employees and customers

We can vouch for this: conversations with Nuffield Technologies’ clients are increasingly steering towards the sustainability of the products and services we offer.

The good news is that rugged mobiles are leading the way in sustainability. While the recent launch of a ‘sustainable’ phone was praised for its forward-thinking, rugged devices have been offering the same kinds of features for many years. Rugged tech is sturdy, well supported for repair and batteries are also replaceable, helping to extend the life of the product (typically 10 years as opposed to two to three years for consumer models). Also, unlike many consumer models, new devices are commonly backwards compatible with chargers, cradles and other accessories, extending the life of peripheral products.

For these reasons, we strongly believe there will be a further shift to rugged mobile computers, and companies who may employ hundreds or even thousands of workers in logistics will rightly shout about these sustainable gains.

Nuffield Technologies offers a full solution – from consultancy to procurement and software development – for businesses looking to boost their performance with rugged technology.

We also keep our customers up to date with all the changes in the rugged tech world. Read our definitive guide to migrating your rugged technology from Windows CE to a new OS – a change all businesses using rugged tech need to address. Download this white paper here.

3 Ways Rugged Wearables Are Transforming Logistics Businesses

Rugged wearables in action: a male warehouse employee uses a ring scanner and smart glasses to pick stock.
Wearable wearables: smart glasses and a ring scanner help a worker quickly pick stock.
Ring-mounted scanners and smart glasses free up employees to give and receive information without stopping their work, helping to increase productivity.

For many people, the phrase ‘wearable technology’ conjures up images of walkers and runners checking their wrists and logging steps. While it’s true that the fitness industry has seen a wearable devices revolution, it’s in the world of business – and particularly logistics – that the technology is at its most pioneering and transformative.

Rugged wearables such as scanners, headsets, arm-mounted computers and smart glasses are helping businesses speed up operations, use data more effectively, protect employees and even integrate human and robot labour.

Supply chain experts MHI predict that 70% of warehouse facilities will adopt some form of rugged wearables by 2023. Meanwhile, a report by ResearchAndMarkets.com suggests that the industrial wearables market is likely to grow from $1.64 billion in 2018 to a projected $2.78 billion by 2024. For many businesses who want to keep up, it isn’t a question of why invest in wearable devices but when.

Here’s three compelling ways wearable technology is benefitting logistics businesses.

A female worker scans a product using rugged wearables: a ring scanner and smart glasses.
Smart glasses: one logistics company reported they increased worker productivity by 15%.

1) Rugged wearables are increasing productivity

While much wearable tech appears pioneering or even futuristic, wearable barcode scanners have, in fact, been bringing efficiencies to warehouses for many years. They are available as wrist, ring, or glove-mounted models. Once paired with a wearable computer, they help logistics workers scan barcodes quickly. They also help workers pick or place items with an unprecedented level of accuracy, informing them if they have chosen the correct item or the right number of items, or placed an item correctly. Back in 2011, UPS used radio frequency-enabled ring scanners in its international supply chain operations and found packages travelled more efficiently and reliably through its network.

The key to improving efficiency in any organisation is to get the right information to the right workers at the right time, so they can take swift and accurate actions. Paired with arm-mounted computers, voice headsets provide real-time feedback to warehouse employees, giving them live instructions and helping them to log reports quickly (and without typing) as they complete actions.

One of the beauties of these technologies is the way they can free up employees to have both hands available to lift boxes, pack items etc, while receiving and providing information. When you compare this approach to traditional methods of repeatedly looking down at printed orders or picking up and putting down a handheld device, the benefits are obvious.

However, when using the above technologies, a worker still might need to look down at their wrist when they need to retrieve information about their next pick. In other words, they have to stop what they are doing. Wearable glasses solve this problem by providing information in front of a worker’s eyes; they never have to break off their job to check information – they can keep their eyes up and ahead at all times.

In 2017, DHL adopted pioneering augmented reality (AR) tech to smart glasses to introduce efficiencies to its supply chain. The glasses interact with barcodes to provide vital information for increasing accuracy and the timeliness of orders. The company reported worker productivity increased by 15% as a result.

The Zebra HD4000 Enterprise Head-Mounted Display
The Zebra HD4000 Enterprise Head-Mounted Display overlays important information in workers’ real-time field of view.

2) Wearable devices are keeping employees safer

As well as providing employees with data, wearables play a useful role in tracking their movements and behaviours. Managers can see where staff are in a warehouse and use the information to direct the flow of labour and resources to where it is needed most.

This trackability also shows huge potential with regard to worker health and wellbeing. In 2013, BP America introduced a pioneering programme providing employees with FitBit bracelets that collected data relating to fitness, fatigue levels, sleep quality and location.

While not mainstream yet by any means, wellbeing tracking is being investigated by other organisations, particularly data around body temperature, heart rate and blood oxygen levels, which can help to monitor health and promote early intervention in cases of fatigue or anxiety.

Ergonomics, which aims to design workplace functions around a worker’s capabilities, can also be monitored more closely using wearable tech. For example, products are available that can track any irregular movements on the part of employees, to alert them to unsafe practices that could cause injury.

No discussion of wearable devices would be complete without looking at the COVID-19 pandemic. And there is good news here, in terms of innovations to keep employees safer. Many companies are already using proximity trackers, simple badge-sized devices that alert colleagues if they break any social distancing rules. Some can even log and report on ‘proximity events’, revealing where close contact is occurring most frequently, so changes can be made to keep people safer. Meanwhile, in late 2020 the BBC reported that an entrepreneur had developed a thin, disposable patch with an integrated biosensor to monitor a range of vital signs including respiration rate, skin temperature, blood pressure, posture and heart function. While the original intention was to help doctors measure patient health remotely, companies are showing a great deal of interest because the patch can monitor signs of a fever – one of the major indicators of COVID-19.

A Zebra WT6000 wearable device: a small, rugged computer.
Wearable devices such as this Zebra WT6000 Wearable Computer are designed for ‘rugged’ environments and will withstand dust, spray and sub-zero temperatures.

3) Rugged wearables are integrating human and robot labour

As consumers, many of us use voice recognition to ask Alexa or similar devices to play our favourite tunes or radio stations. The logistics world, meanwhile, is taking the potential of voice recognition and human/machine interaction to another level. Employees now use wearable headsets to issue verbal commands to autonomous mobile robot (AMR) assistants. For instance, a worker can leave a packed cart at the end of an aisle and use voice commands to tell a robot to shift it to another area or to deliver a fresh empty cart ready for packing.

These interactions are not confined to headsets and voice recognition. Wearable barcode scanners, those enduring wearable staples, are now also playing a part in significantly speeding up AMR workflows. Workers scan a barcode programmed with a pre-assigned workflow and the AMR gets to work. Multiple barcodes appear at the end of aisles and workers can manage and control several AMRs at once to carry out tasks.

So what next? Many believe AI will be the catalyst to future developments in wearable tech. Ed Thomas, principal analyst for technology thematic research at data analytics and consulting company GlobalData says, ‘Over the next few years, wearable devices will become smarter, as they incorporate technologies like artificial intelligence […] and so their relevance, particularly to enterprise users across industries, will only increase.’

Nuffield Technologies helps logistic clients source the right wearable devices, so they can optimise their operations and bring efficiencies and savings to their businesses. Get in touch to discuss your requirements and we will help to create a wearables strategy for you.

5 Reasons Why Migrating to Android Enterprise Devices Will Benefit Your Business

Graph in the palm of a hand showing increase in benefits due to using Android Enterprise Devices

If you’ve kept up to speed with business tech developments you’ll know that time is ticking for users of legacy mobile enterprise technology. Support is being withdrawn and you’ll be on your own in terms of managing outdated, underperforming and, increasingly, downright insecure devices.

This is never a good place to be when your business model relies on high-performing hardware and software to retain a competitive edge and keep customers coming back.

However, in this post we want to move the conversation on from what’s wrong with your existing devices. Instead, let’s look in detail at some of the solid benefits your business will enjoy by moving to high-performance Android Enterprise devices. We think you’ll agree that the case is compelling if you want to streamline your processes, keep up with growing demand, and beat the competition

1) Faster and more efficient business operations

It really can’t be overstated just how big an impact modern Android Enterprise devices could have on performance and morale. Think faster data capture, greater processing power, better Wi-Fi, longer battery life, quicker charging, slimmer devices and improved connectivity. Each employee will be doing what they do more quickly, without frustration. Multiply that by your number of employees and the benefits are huge.

Or, to look at things the other way around, imagine how badly outdated, bulky devices, with sluggish performance and poor battery management, could be affecting your team’s ability to do their jobs?

Benefits: Your workforce will be fulfilling tasks and orders more quickly, keeping more customers happy.

2) Protection from costly data breaches

According to security experts Ifsec Global, a security breach costs UK businesses on average over £6,000. With attacks increasing in frequency, this isn’t just something that happens to somebody else any more.

Padlock with text showing security risks faced by businesses that can be mitigated by using Android Enterprise devices
Android Enterprise devices reduce the risk of security breaches to your business.

The good news is that modern Android Enterprise devices use an up-to-date OS with multi-layer security to keep data and devices safe. Isolated processes and device encryption protect against data breaches, and Android’s own built-in malware protection stops harmful applications capturing your data. With the right Mobile Device Management solution, managers also have granular control over devices, which provides further security. You can prevent user access to Play Store, whitelist approved apps, control access to the internet and manage all devices via a centralised dashboard.

Making smart choices in terms of device procurement can add further protection too. For example, mobile manufacturer Zebra Technologies offers extended support – including security updates – after consumer Android support ends. This can help to extend the lifecycle of a device and make your investment more cost-effective.

Meanwhile, if you are still using legacy systems that don’t benefit from security updates, you might feel like a devastating attack is just around the corner. The harsh truth is that you may well be right.

Benefits: Your business will be protected against damaging – and often hugely costly – data breaches.

3) Fewer hours training employees

Never underestimate the significance of a user-friendly Android OS that most employees will be instantly familiar with. Use Android Enterprise devices and the efficient, familiar OS is going to help you fast track training, so employees spend fewer hours getting to grips with devices and more time using them to get on with the job more efficiently. (Some estimates suggest it can take two to four days to train workers on legacy devices and a matter of hours on Android devices.)

Head with colours and connections in background and clock over the top showing that familiar user interfaces mean Android Enterprise devices reduce worker training time
Android Enterprise devices are often familiar to workers, and so reduce time spent training.

From the user experience point of view, an Android OS will be a huge step up. Devices are built on modern design principles and benefit from vast research into user experience. They are easy to use and help employees perform tasks more quickly.

Benefits: Train employees in hours not days and keep your people working and earning.

4) A competitive advantage with new technologies and software

New technologies can revolutionise business processes, bringing efficiencies and savings. However, the age of your devices may be the factor that decides whether your business can capitalise on game-changing innovations. If your tech is outdated and incompatible, you will be left behind. On the other hand, if you upgrade to Android Enterprise devices you may be able to use: Bluetooth location beacons (small, wireless transmitters that use low-energy Bluetooth technology to send signals to other smart devices nearby); near-field communications (wireless data transfer that enables tech in close proximity to communicate without an internet connection – think Apple or Google Pay); and 4G/5G. This matters because you can be certain that your competitors will be leveraging tech that will give them a competitive advantage in terms of productivity, efficiency and customer experience. It is difficult to predict what disruptive, industry-revolutionising application or tech is around the corner, but using Android will ensure that you are ready for the change

Benefits: Use the latest tech to improve business efficiencies and be ready for the next industry-disrupting applications.

5) The right devices and applications for your workforce

In its report Rugged Handheld Devices Market 2020-2024, market research expert Technavio confirmed what many in the industry have known for a long time: more and more businesses are choosing Android-based rugged devices. In terms of range, research and development, new products, and also applications to support those products, there’s no competitor OS offering the same degree of choice and flexibility. Android rugged devices include smartphones, handhelds, tablets, wearables and vehicle-mounted computers. Instead of making do and hoping a product and its associated software will fit your own set up, with the breadth and depth of the Android range you are far more likely to find something that fits seamlessly with your set up. And that can only be good for your operations and your workforce. You’ll also get the stable support, parts availability and maintenance you can no longer rely on with Windows products, ensuring longevity for your investment.

Benefits: Increase efficiency with the right enterprise tech for the right job.

Nuffield Technologies helps businesses streamline their operations with business-grade enterprise technology. We can help you find the right tech to suit your business operations, unique challenges and budget. We’ll even negotiate on your behalf with technology providers to ensure deals that significantly beat market rates for products. Visit Nuffield Technologies or call 00 44 1202 665 885 to find out more.