Monday, 25 February 2019 15:26

The evolution of wearable warehouse technology

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The role of the warehouse in the modern supply chain has completely changed, and warehouse technology which increases visibility, accuracy and efficiency is now more important than ever.

Warehouses are no longer just a large space for inventory to sit until it is dispatched; instead, they have become fast-paced hives of activity and a key part of a decentralised supply chain dealing with consumers’ “want it now” culture.

To deal with the new emphasis on speed and accuracy, warehouse operators need tools which enable them to become more independent within the wider warehouse environment, facilitating even greater efficiency and productivity.

Just as within the consumer market, wearable technology is taking a much bigger role within warehouse and supply chain management. In fact, 85% of end users are now motivated to invest in warehouse wearable initiatives if it increases employee productivity, according to research.

Wearables and efficiency

From a business standpoint, wearable devices, particularly in a warehouse, have the potential to drastically boost efficiency and productivity by supplying workers with access to mobile equipment, which traditionally stayed within the central office. Although wearable devices have been around for a while, the latest incarnation of solutions offers a more varied mix of tools which can be matched specifically to budgets and operational needs.

As an example, wearable computers allow operators to easily access information about a product through a picture sent to their display unit. They even allow users to take pictures themselves, if the item in question is damaged for instance.

Similarly, operators can now easily capture RFID tags and barcodes through handheld ring scanners, which can scan items several feet away on the warehouse floor to quickly identify or confirm product information.

Previously, operators would have been forced to use centralised computers to locate products and problems would only be identified after the item had moved through to the next stage in the delivery chain, like a loading dock – assuming the problem was spotted at all. Wearable and mobile tools now make these processes much more streamlined and simpler, while reducing the chance of human error or incorrect shipments.

Multi-modal future

Maintaining efficiency and accuracy is already a major challenge in the modern supply chain, and this is only going to become more profound in the coming years. As a result, the steps already taken to achieve more speed and accuracy will also have to continue – and this is where “multi-modal” systems will come into play.

Enabling workers to use spoken instructions will simplify tasks even further, for example by removing the need to navigate touchscreen computers. Combined with hands-free scanning, multi-modal systems can further drastically reduce the time taken to pick each item.

Operators could also benefit from voice-directed picking, allowing them to rapidly locate inventory. This is particularly useful for seasonal workers, who can quickly get to grips with stock location. These mobile devices can also boost productivity and efficiency further by providing “best-routes” through the warehouse so operatives can get to inventory quicker, enabling on-the-spot verification through hands-free scanning and providing real-time updates on inventory.

What is clear, is that modern supply chain and warehouse management must continue to offer both operators and managers the tools they need to meet more challenging delivery times. Inventory management is now much more fast-paced and contingent on being able to move products across a much wider network of warehouses and stores than in previous years.

In a modern, fast-paced, on-demand environment, the cost of incorrect, late or missed shipments can be catastrophic to businesses. Luckily, new technologies and mobile hardware exist to make this challenge much more manageable.

To read more about how you can meet the challenges of today’s omnichannel economy with better, more automated technology, download Zebra’s new vision Study here.

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