Mobility solutions and wearable warehouse technology are not new trends, but the new level of sophistication that they now offer is helping warehouses re-invent their operations and achieve new levels of efficiency and productivity.
As a result, an increasing number of warehouses are adopting these solutions as they progress towards warehouse digitalization.
But are most warehouses ready to adopt these technology enablers yet?
This blog walks you through the basics of what wearable and mobile technologies are, the opportunities they offer, their applicability as it relates to warehouse and DC operations, and whether you should invest in them now or wait.
What are Warehouse Mobility Solutions?
Warehouse mobility solutions include vehicle-mounted computers, smartphones, tablets, handheld scanners, and mobile printers that allow warehouse clerks to freely move around the warehouse and remain fully connected regardless of location.
These technologies have now become part of standard warehousing operations and have enabled an uninterrupted flow of information across the business and the supply chain (almost) in real-time.
According to a 2018 white paper from Zebra,
66% of respondents plan to adopt hand-held computers backed with WMS access by 2018.
Handheld Mobile Computers: By far, the most popular of mobile devices for warehouses of all sizes. You can integrate these with a WMS to manage almost all operations.
Rugged Tablets: Quite handy when you need access to data, dashboards, emails, documents, etc., on the go in the facility. The idea is to decouple managers from their workstations while allowing them access to computers.
Mobile Printers: An excellent way of reducing walking time in the facility by allowing warehouse clerks to print labels right at the point of application.
Vehicle-mounted Computers: Used mostly by forklift operators, these allow them the ease of hands-free mobility management & access to information without having to go fetch it from the central station.
What is Warehouse Wearable Technology?
Wearable tech includes devices (connected via Internet) that can be worn on the wrist, head, face, or any other body part. These allow warehouse clerks and managers the same freedom as mobile devices, but with a higher degree of ease.
Wearable warehouse technology is equipped with smart sensors and is calibrated with warehouse management systems to expedite warehouse processes by providing access to a vast amount of information on the go.
Wearable technology vendors suggest that,
Wearable voice command tools can increase the efficiency of warehouse processes by up to 30%.
These solutions include:
Wearable Computers: These provide the functionality of rugged tablets and vehicle-mounted computers but offer much more ease for warehouse clerks during the picking process.
Smart Glasses: Augmented reality and virtual reality with smart glasses are the most radical additions to warehouses. They provide advanced efficiency in navigation, labeling, picking, etc.
Voice Headsets: These facilitate voice picking through voice command, without needing to scan labels—already very popular in distribution centers.
Activity-tracking Bracelets: These GPS and movement sensor based trackers let the managers monitor the activity and performance of the warehouse clerks.
Finger-trigger Gloves: Though not very popular yet, these wearables are equipped with barcode scanners that allow full use of hands while sorting, especially when heavy packages are involved.
The Value of Mobile and Wearable Solutions for Warehouses
Both kinds of solutions add to warehouse mobility on a broad level. However, there are three important aspects of a warehouse that each helps improving.
Speed: Having access to the right data without walking up to the workstation time and again speeds up warehouse processes and operations. Solutions like smart glasses, handheld computers, wearable computers, voice headsets, and wearable finger triggers, etc., help you carry out tasks with absolute ease, thus speeding up processes.
Safety: Wearables and mobility solutions for warehouses add safety to tasks that involve the agility of hands and repetitive motions. By keeping the hands as free as possible, they allow the clerks to focus more on the physical process of material handling. Also, devices with sensors can warn them about potential dangers in certain activities and locations, and even suggest preventive measures.
Accuracy: The level of sophistication that these devices provide reduces error rates associated with larger barcode scanners. The more advanced the technology you choose, the more accuracy you are equipped with.
As early as 2012,
Wyoming Liquor Division attained a whopping 99.9% accuracy in order picking with voice solutions in their facility.
Where Are Mobile and Wearable Solutions Now?
You can fairly estimate the right time to adopt these technologies once you have assessed them using three important frameworks — the S-Curve of Innovation, the Technology Adoption Life Cycle, and the Hype Cycle.
We’ve measured mobile and wearable warehouse solutions on these cycles/curves to help you determine its present viability.
S-Curve of Innovation
Mobile and Wearable Technologies are in between the Takeoff and Maturity stages. This position indicates that the technologies have overcome a significant obstacle and have been adopted by the early majority of adopters. Additionally, this position suggests that they are soon to be adopted by the general public, which is an indication that the risks associated with implementing them are subsiding.
Technology Adoption Life Cycle
Mobile and Wearable Technologies are being implemented by the Early Majority. At this point, the technologies have crossed the Chasm of Death, which is an indication that they are likely to become a technology standard in the warehousing industry.
With the Gartner Hype Cycle for Supply Chain Execution Technologies 2019, mobile technology and wearables are on two different positions. For Mobile Technology, it is placed at the start of the Plateau of Productivity, which means that the technology just reached the point where it is widely adopted.
On the other hand, Wearable Technology is located in the early phases of the Peak of Inflated Expectations, as represented by “Immersive Experience in Logistics.” This placement in the curve means that Wearable Technology is at a point where it is about to receive its highest publicity. But despite the technology being overpromoted, this position indicates that the technology is still uncertain if it leads to success or failure.
For businesses that want to experience increased operational efficiency and
more real-time operations, we strongly recommend to start adopting Mobile
Technology in their warehousing operations. This technology has matured
enough that products from this category are almost certain to provide an increase in productivity.
However, for Wearable Technology, some technologies such as Voice Picking Systems are matured. But for the recent innovations, such as smart
glasses integrated with augmented reality or virtual reality, they are still on the testing phase, and challenges still await in order to fit them into real business-case scenarios. But, as soon as this technology proves itself by
overcoming these challenges, it can be a proper investment at the right time.
If you want to learn more about Warehouse Digitalization and optimizing warehouse processes, you can follow us on LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, or Facebook. If you have other inquiries or suggestions, don’t hesitate to contact us here. We’ll be happy to hear from you.