GUEST BLOG: Choosing a handheld mobile computer to improve warehouse operations

In this contributed blog post Paul Reed, regional product manager for Zebra Technologies discusses the technologies retailers should be choosing to increase warehouse productivity.

In recent years, the dramatic increase in online shopping has had a huge impact on the retail industry. Long gone are the days when purchasing goods or groceries was done from Monday to Saturday, between 9am and 5.30pm.

This new approach to e-commerce and on-demand culture has many plus points for the consumer – convenience being the key driver. It also gives retailers a fresh challenge that they must meet to stay ahead of their competitors.

In the retail chain, there is one key demographic under more pressure than ever: warehouse staff. For warehouse managers, this advancement in retail culture has meant being subjected to immense pressure to get a greater volume of goods shipped on time.

Warehouses are evolving from simplified operations to tightly integrated profit centres. Logistics firms and retailers are now looking for new innovations to help them keep up with changing consumer demands.

In this sink-or-swim environment, it is important that warehouse managers adopt the right technology to ensure fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) remain, well, fast moving. The key to smooth operations is deploying the right handheld mobile computing solution. With this challenge in mind, what should warehouse managers look for tech-wise when doing this?

Design shapes functionality

Design is fundamental – specifically ergonomic design. We would advise avoiding the traditional design where the device scans an item and then the user has to tilt the computer to look at the screen. Newer designs enable warehouse operators to simply hold up the device in one position, with data capture capabilities at the rear of the device. Studies have shown that the removal of an up and down scan tilt action, and adding all touch software to the new product, can save an hour per worker per shift.

New mobile computing devices can be 33% lighter than traditional mobile computers, therefore these are the best options for warehouse staff under pressure. Lighter devices reduce worker fatigue, as minimal effort is needed to use them. Smarter solutions also feature a hands-free proximity scanner in a handheld device, which can be enabled from a hip holster, presentation holster or a cart mount.

Software and shelf life

On smarter mobile computing devices, the traditional “green screen” software found in most warehouse technology has also been replaced with “friendly touch screen buttons” – which means there is no need for a keyboard.

If the intended use for the handheld computer is purely for the warehouse, it is important to choose devices that are Wi-Fi, NFC and Bluetooth proficient. NFC and Bluetooth are particularly important for the swift connection to printers, essential for the labelling of goods and items ready for dispatch.

Before purchasing mobile computers, it is worth speaking with your developers. This is to ensure devices can be adapted to suit specific warehouse needs. In the future, these devices will make better use of Augmented Reality (AR). This is already proving useful for selecting goods for dispatch in a more streamlined way and can even be used for staff training.

As well as design and software applications, it is vital that mobile devices have a good battery life. Our advice here is research devices that can function for nearly 16 hours, or two full shifts. Also check that the shelf life of the product is between three to five years, to ensure you get the most return on your investment.

The future

The introduction and selection of new handheld mobile computers has helped companies boost productivity. Ultimately, this helps businesses operate more profitably during challenging periods. The ultimate goal of inventory management is to optimise supply chain practices to minimise costs without jeopardising service to customers. While there are many factors involved in gaining better control of inventory, upgrading warehouse hardware has helped to manage inventory in a leaner way, especially when it comes to multi-channel fulfilment complexities.