iPads in the warehouse

While the iPad is seen as a consumer tool by many, it's finding a place as a serious logistics tool in some warehouses.

In a world packed with warehouses running complex ERP systems and barcode scanners, there are some operators out there who are using off the shelf hardware that's reducing costs and delivering new functionality. Bordo International, in Melbourne's south east, is using iPads and iPhones across their business to simplify data collection and warehouse operations.

Bordo uses SapphireOne as their ERP software. In the warehouse, where they hold their stock of industrial tools and drill-bits, the picking trolleys have been modified to hold an iPad in a ruggedised case that's held in place with velcro. While this sounds a little basic, it works very well. They’ve also sourced a battery pack that allows them to keep the iPad charged through a whole day. Even though Apple boasts that the iPad has a 10 hour battery life, Bordo relies on Bluetooth and WiFi for commas to the ERP and for the barcode scanners they use. As a bonus, they use the battery pack to charge the barcode scanner.

The ERP software, SapphireOne, runs inside Safari so that warehouse staff are able carry out their work without bits of paper or the old, very functionally limited, Windows Mobile devices they had in the past. Given the specific workflow that Bordo employs, they have some customisation applied to the web interface so that the iPad's implementation of Safari can handle their requirements.

The iPad software is complemented by a small Bluetooth barcode reader - the Scanfob 2002. Operators hang around their neck on a lanyard. When they scan a barcode the data automatically is automatically fed into the ERP software. In order to make this work, Bordo worked with both SapphireOne and the makers of the barcode scanner so that it all worked together. For example, as iOS sees barcode scanners as keyboards, the scanner firmware was modified to disable the iPad’s soft keyboard when the scanner was used.

The iPad software has been updated with routing intelligence that help warehouse workers get their work done as fast as possible. For example, if an operator needs to collect items from various locations within the warehouse, it's alb to calculate the quickest path through the warehouse.

Outside the warehouse, iPhones are being deployed to sales staff. This allows sales teams to access customer data on the road and sending orders. As well as increasing efficiency, by replacing a paper-based sales system with an online one that directly access the central system, this reduces errors from the old paper system that required transposition into the ERP.

Things to watch out for when deploying devices in the warehouse

1 - Don't try to use the devices you choose for everything all at once. Look at where it can offer the best value and be selective. Get it right on that one application before looking at a wider deployment.

2 - Don't assume interoperability. Even simple device interactions, like Bordo's combination of iPad and Bluetooth barcode reader, need to be tested thoroughly before production deployment.

3 - Engage your users early and often. A significant factor in Bordo's success came from having users engaged in the process. Of course, the "sexiness" factor of the iPad helped but that would have worn off if the implementation wasn't managed well.

 

This was last published in May 2011

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