iPad in the Warehouse

Markley Enterprises uses Apple's innovative new tablet to drive productivity gains in the warehouse


Markley Enterprises went live with the RedPrairie On-Demand WMS on January 1 of this year in its 20,000-square-foot warehouse facility. Tim Markley says that his company has seen increased control over its inventory, while also being able to offer customers "self-service" visibility into their inventory, along with customer service information and reports available through the WMS. "Our corporate customers' dealers and distributors order from our online store, and our customers can log into RedPrairie to see their inventory and all their orders," Markley says. "So if they get customer service enquiries on their end, they're able to answer those questions most of the time by just going into the system."

Integration between the online store and the WMS allows orders to be sent out, within seconds of being placed, to the warehouse floor for action. Typically, for Markley Enterprises, that would mean that an employee would pick up an order from a workstation computer before heading out into the warehouse to pick the necessary items. However, Tim Markley discovered that RedPrairie offered a mobile application capable of sending information out to wireless devices on the warehouse floor, and he hit upon the idea of using iPod Touches, the mp3 player with a built-in Web browser and a touch screen, as his mobile device of choice. He says that he preferred the iPod namely because of its touch screen, versus the stylus-driven interactivity he saw in devices based on the Windows Mobile operating system. The only problem with the iPod was that the application was written for Windows Mobile, and so the application screen wound up being difficult to read on the Touch.

 

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Enter the iPad. When Apple's tablet computing platform, with its bright, crisp 9.7-inch (diagonal) screen, debuted at the beginning of April this year, Markley says that he immediately saw its potential in his warehouse. "When the iPad came out, we really felt like we had what we wanted because it gave us more real estate on the screen," he says. Markley promptly bought three entry-level iPads (WiFi-enabled only, with 16GB of memory, retailing at $499 through Apple) to supplement the four iPod Touches being used in the warehouse.

And that's where the three-dollar application entered the picture, too. To get the RedPrairie software running on the iPad, Markley needed an application that would scale the mobile app to fit on the tablet's screen. He found a mobile browser app, written by a Japanese programmer, that did just that on the Apple App Store — for $2.99. "The buttons and everything on it are even in Japanese — we can't even read them," Markley says. "But we're just pushing buttons on the screen furnished in English by the RedPrairie application, so we don't have any problems with the language. If we want to go to inventory, we press the inventory button; if we want to go to fulfillment, we hit the fulfillment button, and it works that easy.

"And," Markley adds, "I wasn't really fearful of making a mistake because for $2.99 it was worth trying."

The Challenge of Innovation

Currently Markley Enterprises has an iPad mounted on a forklift for receiving and put away, and on picking carts within the warehouse for picking orders. Staff pull orders off the WMS, arrange them into a spreadsheet how they want the orders picked, and then e-mail the orders directly to the iPads, each of which has its own e-mail address. The order picker opens up the iPad and brings up the spreadsheet, which tells them which location to go to and how many to pick. "It's paperless and very visual," Markley says, "and it's very easy to use. I'd say that we normally have somebody using it well within an hour or two because it's so intuitive."

Automating order entry by integrating the Web store with the WMS helped Markley Enterprises eliminate employee time previously spent manually entering orders, while the customer self-service capabilities have saved additional time for the company's staff. Arming employees with the tablet computers also has resulted in efficiency gains, according to Markley, who had staff use pedometers to count their steps during a shift, revealing that the mobile devices helped reduce a warehouse worker's steps taken by 30 percent. The iPad also has eliminated reams of paperwork and increased inventory accuracy (up to 99 percent), as workers feed the WMS directly from the tablet with real-time information on items put away and picked. The results have sufficiently impressed Markley that he is looking at introducing the iPad on the production side of his business, too, to track labor time, again using a Web-based application.

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