All of these realities place new requirements on the technology strategy deployed in the warehouse. Any technology investment must be viewed in a much broader context than ever before. Mobilizing a particular task—from yard management to picking and packing—is less about the specific task and more about the responsiveness and accuracy of the overall supply chain and making it more visible to the retail enterprise. Technology on the warehouse floor makes this easier with solutions that are optimized to direct, confirm, and error-proof tasks, enabling the operator to keep both hands free to handle product or operate a vehicle.
One innovation is a new generation of ergonomic technology. Wearable computing places color and graphic screens on the user’s arm. Scanners built into rings keep hands available for tasks while building scanning and confirmation steps into body mechanics. Voice communication not only keeps workers in contact but also adds a new way to interface with technology.
Other identification technologies provide new capability for tracking inventory and assets within the warehouse. Two-dimensional barcodes allow for much more information to be encoded about a product. RFID tags not only store a vast amount of information but also can be read effortlessly and at high speed. In the right application, RFID can provide a high level of visibility and error proofing throughout the process.
Tablets also are entering the warehouse as the first truly mobile devices that can work with and display large amounts of information for managers and supervisors. This new tool keeps them on the floor to manage the business versus running to their desks to access data and applications. Technology keeps people, data and goods moving in the modern warehouse.
Supply chain responsiveness
The business environment is relentlessly driving the increasingly real-time integration of the enterprise, the warehouse and the supply chain. Real-time mobile data makes that integration a reality, enabling retail innovation like it does just-in-time manufacturing. Enhanced traceability, real-time data and the technology from which they are deployed ensure the integrity of global supply chains. Technology is simultaneously driving down the cost of this integration while raising its accuracy, traceability, velocity and the overall responsiveness of the supply chain.
Armed with technology resources, consumers are more sophisticated than ever before. They can compare prices and communicate good and bad experiences around the globe in seconds. Such an environment raises the stakes among enterprises as they compete for customers based on pricing and the overall quality of the consumer experience. The responsiveness of the supply chain is now a competitive differentiator and real-time data is its foundational element.
Mark Wheeler is Director of Warehouse Solution for Motorola Solutions Inc., Schaumburg, Ill. Responsible for the company’s warehouse mobility solutions business in North America, Wheeler works with customer’s supply chain operations teams across all industries as well as Motorola’s product development teams for the warehouse solution space.