We’re excited to see the changes that have been happening in warehouse management over recent years. Research into the future of the warehouses shows that warehouse IT and operations professionals no longer view the warehouse as just a cost centre, in which operational focus is on reducing inefficiencies and inaccuracies in order picking.
Instead it is seen as an asset that can drive profitable growth for the business, with a heightened focus on making improvements at every stage of the process - inbound, storage and outbound.
One of the key ways that warehouse are changing is the use of handheld devices for warehouse management. The same study found that by 2018, only 12% of respondents expect to still be using pen and paper-based processes; 66 percent plan to use handheld mobile devices with real-time access to WMS systems.
Types of handheld devices used in warehousing
Radio Frequency (RF) devices
These have been around for a long time and are widely used. The devices are rugged and well suited to the warehouse environment. They scan barcodes, so as to track goods throughout their journey from receipt through put away, picking, packing and dispatch.
Smartphones and tablets
Specialist RF devices are relatively expensive, so many firms in the distributive trades are using consumer-grade smartphones and tablets instead. According to other research, smartphones are the most widely used mobile device in supply chain and logistics operations. Workers are familiar with smartphones and tablets, so learn to use them very quickly, and the bigger screen sizes make it possible to offer much more visual instructions to your warehouse staff – images combined with text commands.
There are also numerous warehouse and inventory management apps available that either link with warehouse management systems, or that offer stand-alone enhancements to existing systems. Warehouse managers can use the same devices as their workers, which enables them to run reports and access KPIs on the warehouse floor so they can make quick decisions without having to go back to their desks.
Total mobile solutions
Whilst implementing handhelds alone will boost warehouse performance, further improvements can be gained by compiling a suite of mobile tools, for example, combining mobile computers and scanners with mobile printers; or pairing voice solutions with mobile printing; or using mobile computers with voice capabilities instead of a dedicated voice device.
This approach cuts down on your workers having to travel back and forth between fixed stations and instead allows them to take the process to the product.
The same ‘future of the warehouse’ study shows that by 2018, 38% of warehouse IT and operations professionals expect to be using RFID systems, up from 21% in 2013.
RFID tags are not expected to fully replace barcodes but there are considerable advantages: RFID tags don’t need line of sight, they are read/write so can be updated, and can carry much more information than barcodes, and many RFID tags can be read simultaneously, so goods can be logged automatically as they enter a warehouse through an RFID portal. RFID readers are specialised devices, but there are now also smartphone add-ons that will read RFID tags.
Whichever devices you choose, going mobile and moving away from manual processes will bring your warehousing up to date, save you time and money, and enable you to offer a better service to your customers.
Subscribe to our blog so you can get this post straight to your inbox.