Blog Manufacturing Warehouse and Distribution

The Ideal Dual-Purpose Vehicle-Mounted and Mobile Computing Solution

Whether it’s a forklift driver in your warehouse or a delivery driver out on the road, the right mobile computing technology can make or break your workflow efficiency. On the one hand, vehicle-mounted computers are a great way to deliver real-time access to business applications, order and picking information, and route and scheduling details.

However, while vehicle mounted computers such as Zebra’s VC80 can be moved from vehicle to vehicle by using a quick-release mount, they’re not designed to be handheld computers. If you need a device that can work like a desktop computer in a vehicle but can also be taken with you into a warehouse aisle or to a customer’s door, a traditional vehicle-mounted computer is not the right option.

These devices also don’t have built-in barcode scanning capabilities, so you have to connect a peripheral scanning device to get that functionality.

On the other hand, traditional handheld mobile computers are great for true mobility, allowing workers to carry them wherever they need, and they come with built-in barcode scanning capabilities, so there’s no need to connect or pair it with a wired or wireless barcode scanner.

However, handheld mobile computers aren’t designed to be vehicle-mounted devices. While you can mount them inside vehicles with the right hardware, the touch screen and form factor might be smaller than drivers prefer for safe and easy reading as well as interactivity and overall ease of use.

This is where a rugged enterprise-grade tablet computer often emerges as the ideal solution. Tablet computers are a way to bring together both worlds of a vehicle-mounted computer and an easily removable and fully mobile tablet.

For example, Zebra’s ET50/55 enterprise tablets can be mounted in a forklift, truck, or other vehicle with a quick-release Zebra cradle/holder. This allows the devices to serve as a larger-screen computer with touch, stylus, and even gloved finger interactions—all while being removable for use as a mobile tablet.

The ET50/55 is a rugged device with enterprise-class features and an optional ultra-rugged frame for extreme durability, both indoors and outdoors. It runs your choice of Android 6.0 or Windows 10, contains an Intel quad core 1.59 GHz processor, and comes 4 GB of LPDDR3 RAM to power even the most graphics- and resource-intensive business apps.

With a choice between an 8.3 inch or 10.1 inch Corning Gorilla Glass 3 screen, you also get a large, easy-to-read screen with three methods of data entry: an active stylus or a finger, with or without a glove. All three methods work even if the screen is wet.

Each device includes two integrated cameras for image capture, barcode scanning, and video calls, with optional advanced scanning engines for intensive capture of even the dirtiest and most difficult to read barcodes.

The ET50/55 also supports GPS, NFC, and fast Wi-Fi and cellular wireless connections, including Wi-Fi with the ET50 and 4G LTE with the ET55. Additionally, IP65 sealing provides a dust-free design that can handle a full-force hose-down, while the optional extra-rugged frame helps the device withstand numerous drops to concrete from up to 5.9 ft.

These and the many other features of the ET50/55 are why our team at omniQ has been recommending these devices as the ideal dual purpose vehicle-mounted and mobile computing solution.

You get vehicle-mounting, a mobile tablet, and enterprise-grade computing, scanning, and more—all in a single device that can save you money on buying peripheral or extra devices.

To learn more about Zebra’s ET50/55 tablets, you can download our product sheet or contact omniQ to get answers to your questions.

Field Sales and Delivery Manufacturing Mobility

IP Ratings: Does the Ruggedness of Your Devices Matter?

Factories, warehouses and field usage are challenging environments for technology. Mobile devices used in these types of applications should be rugged enough to withstand the extreme temperatures, shock, and exposure to dirt and moisture they will likely encounter.

A truly rugged mobile device has had its durability tested and certified by the manufacturer and, preferably, an independent third party. For the types of mobile devices found in warehouses or in field service applications, the most common measure of that ruggedness is the Ingress Protection or IP rating.

The IP rating classifies the degree of protection the device has against intrusion of solid objects (like dust particles) or liquid. The two-digit number expresses this ruggedization by combining the two ratings.

The first digit indicates the level of protection against solid foreign objects, and ranges from 0 (no protection) to 6 (dust-tight; no ingress). The second digit indicates the protection the enclosure has against water, and ranges from 0 (no protection) to 7 (immersion up to 1m) or 8 (immersion beyond 1m).

The types of rugged computers used in enterprise applications typically have an IP rating ranging from IP64 to IP67. While there are IP68 rated devices available, it’s important to ask the manufacture the depth and length of time of the liquid immersion the device is protected against. Because the standard is not specific, the level of water protection for these devices can vary.

In addition to the IP testing, rugged devices are typically tested to withstand being dropped to concrete, shock, vibration, and other environmental factors. Some devices are built to operate in freezer environments, for example, or to safely operate in explosive environments.

For enterprise applications, particularly line-of-business solutions in the warehouse, factory or in the field, having a device that is rugged enough to withstand the wear and tear of the environment and use case is critical. You need a device that has been designed from inside and out to be reliable even in the harshest environments.   Simply having a case is not enough especially for the internal components.

Because they are built for enterprise applications, these devices can have a greater return on investment (ROI) than cheaper consumer-grade devices, even though they cost more. That’s because:

  • These rugged computers and mobile printers have much lower failure rates than consumer-grade devices. That means they last longer (in some use cases, many years), which reduces the replacement cost and ultimately lowers the total cost of ownership (TCO) for the devices.
  • Rugged devices require less frequent repair and replacement, so they have a greater up-time and can improve end user productivity.
  • It takes longer to repair commercial/consumer-grade devices than it does to fix rugged devices, which means rugged computers and printers have shorter downtime even when they do fail.

In fact, an often-cited study by VDC Research found that companies using commercial-grade devices experienced failure rates that were almost double those of rugged device users. Nearly 35 percent of commercial devices were replaced within two years, compared to just two percent of rugged devices.

If you need mobile computers and printers for a mission-critical application – manufacturing, inventory management, field service, delivery, etc. – then those devices have to be built to last. Rugged devices that meet the required IP ratings and other environmental specifications can provide a faster ROI, increased productivity, and (long-term) lower costs than consumer devices. And they will do so for years to come.

Manufacturing Warehouse and Distribution

Lean Manufacturing: 4 Benefits of Making the Switch

Lean manufacturing is a management philosophy that is focused on continuous elimination of waste in business processes through small or incremental improvements. Created by Toyota, it has since been adopted by many companies and across a number of industries. According to lean methodology, there are seven key sources of waste to focus on:

  1. Labor
  2. Overproduction
  3. Space
  4. Defects
  5. Unnecessary human motion
  6. Inventory
  7. Transportation

Both manufacturing and distribution operations have benefited from applying lean manufacturing principles to their operations. Here are four main benefits of making the switch to lean:

1. A lean approach will improve quality. Using lean manufacturing principles, companies can quickly identify defects, use rapid problem solving techniques to identify the root cause of the problem, and then develop solutions to reduce or eliminate the possibility of a similar mistake in the future. This type of “mistake-proofing” will strengthen existing production processes, which improves the quality of the final product — whether that is a manufactured item or a group of items being prepared for shipment.

Lean also generally reduces the number of touches required to complete a process by eliminating unnecessary motion, labor, and handling. By reducing the amount of human intervention in a given process, you can reduce the possibility of human error. The key is to automate as much as possible, while also continuously monitoring for quality in a way that does not erode efficiency. In a warehouse environment, this might mean using automated material handling equipment to consolidate goods for shipment, while barcode scanning to verify that the shipment is accurate.

2. Lean can reduce your inventory. Inventory is expensive to purchase and hold, and can use up valuable space in a factory or warehouse. Over-purchasing inventory ties up cash, can quickly depreciate if the market for the finished product declines, and requires labor to store, organize, and retrieve. In lean manufacturing, companies only produce what is needed by the next operation based on actual demand. This is a pull-based model that relies on accurate demand signals to dictate production volume and inventory purchases. In automotive manufacturing, this just-in-time production method helped greatly streamline inventory flows, while putting additional pressure on parts suppliers to be incredibly responsive to shifts in demand.

This continuous flow model ensures that customers get the right quantity of the right goods exactly when they need it. This also reduces the need for excess inventory. That frees up space and capital, reduces the possibility of damage or obsolescence, and requires less handling and labor.

3. Lean manufacturing approaches can improve efficiency. By reducing wasted motion, continuously improving processes to eliminate unnecessary steps, and standardizing workflows so that each employee knows how to accurately complete a process, the lean approach can greatly improve efficiency. This makes it possible to complete work using fewer resources and in less time. These resources (whether they be employees or equipment) and then be redirected to other value-added activities that will increase the capacity of your facility.

4. Lean makes it easier to manage your operations. Another important aspect of lean manufacturing is the concept of visual management. In short, that means your facility should be organized so that managers can visually scan the work area and easily spot any problems or anomalies. That visibility can also include technology — using the right technology, you can evaluate the flow of goods and be alerted to any orders that might be in danger of falling behind schedule.

With best practices and work processes fully standardized and documented, it’s also easier to see when staff members are deviating from norm. This may indicate that conditions have changed and processes need to be adjusted to meet them.

Using lean manufacturing approaches, your operation can be less reactive and better conditioned to deliver the perfect order each time, to every customer.

Industry Solutions Manufacturing Mobility Transportation and Logistics

How to Improve Food Safety Supply Chain Management

The food supply chain is a particularly complex one to manage. You need to take environmental and time constraints into account to make sure perishable items get from the point of production through processing, distribution, and retail/wholesale operations before they spoil. Food safety regulations that have emerged over the past few years have added more complexity.

Relevant regulations in this space include the Bioterrorism Act of 2002 and the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which require improved data on food origins as well as lot and traceability information to help improve the recall process across the food safety supply chain. The U.S. Department of Agriculture also recently released new rules that even require grocery stores that grind raw beef products to keep records about where the meat came from, lot numbers and production dates, and the date and time each ground beef product was produced.

There have also been advances in detecting and tracking food contamination incidents. For example, there is PulseNet, which state public health laboratories use to analyze bacteria strains from sick individuals and then report to the CDC. The FDA Reportable Food Registry requires companies to report serious product contamination as well.

These new regulations also offer an opportunity for stakeholders across the industry to improve food safety supply chain management by leveraging technology to improve compliance, make the recall process faster and more accurate, and reduce costs. Companies can also improve their own safety performance in the following ways:

Carefully vet all suppliers, distributors, and carriers. Failure to comply with best practices when it comes to food safety can put your brand at risk, so make sure you know exactly where your products have been, including all storage facilities, trucks, and other stops along the way. Investigate the safety practices at those facilities. Find out what kind of testing they do, and how often.

Conduct regular audits. Establish a formal auditing process for your own facilities and those of your suppliers or carriers. This also will help you document your own food safety supply chain improvement efforts.

Create comprehensive purchasing agreements. Involve food safety professionals in outlining supplier agreements so you can minimize risk. Have requirements in writing relative to meeting federal and state rules and regulations, as well information on their own supplier agreements and notifications of any supply changes.

Maintain accurate labeling. The Bioterrorism Act of 2002 requires importers to provide a significant amount of information to the FDA prior to importation of food, including lot, code number or other identifiers, information about he submitter and transmitter, and other identifying data.

Likewise, the FSMA requires a comprehensive product tracing system to track the movement of food from the farm to the point of sale or service. This is so producers can contain outbreaks of foodborne illnesses more quickly.

Implement accurate tracking technology.  As in other industries, the food safety supply chain can benefit from the use of automatic identification technology. There are efforts worldwide to extend food supply chain tracking right back to the individual animal. Governments and suppliers around the world have invested in livestock traceability systems, often using RFID transponders, and these efforts can even extend to the point of delivery or purchase.

omniQ, for example, has developed an RFID-based tray tracking solution that allows bakeries to track deliveries and provide information about the baked goods on the tray to reduce stales and automate replenishment processes.  This also provides needed lot tracking control to identify exactly what batch of products went to what locations.

In addition to barcode and RFID labeling, there are number of high-tech approaches to automating food safety processes. For example, iCertainty and Zebra Technologies created a solution that combines iCertainty’s software, Zebra’s mobile computers, and wireless temperature probes to provide real-time information on food safety audits.  Temperature and other environmental measurements can even be gathered from the point of origin to delivery to ensure that conditions were not exceeded at any point in the journey.

Develop an emergency response plan for recalls and emergencies. With accurate food safety supply chain data in hand, you can perform more targeted recalls and get the contaminated food off the shelf much faster. Establish specific responsibilities for your own team, develop protocols for each supplier and retailer, and have a response team ready to inform consumers and work with the media.

By working with suppliers, creating a clear response plan, and leveraging automated tracking technology, food manufacturing and distribution companies can maintain compliance while also improving traceability and making the recall process faster and less expensive.

Field Sales and Delivery Manufacturing Route Accounting Transportation and Logistics

How to Optimize DSD Solutions for the Food and Beverage Industry

Operating under the direct store delivery (DSD) sales model can be challenging, especially for the food and beverage industry. Although you may have been reluctant in the past to invest in a new DSD solution, the gap between what your legacy system is capable of and what a new mobile solution can do to address your business challenges may lead you to the conclusion that it’s time for a change.

Food and beverage DSD is especially demanding because of the necessity to minimize the time limited-shelf-life products spend in the supply chain — not to mention the stiff competition you face. Upgrading your DSD solution can better position your company to operate more efficiently and competitively, but there are five things you must do to optimize a DSD solution for your specific business:

1. Put yourself in the driver’s seat.Before you make a technology purchase, it’s important to carefully examine your operational challenges and business needs. Make this list front of mind as you speak with your integrator or technology solutions provider. You are looking for a solution that addresses your unique business — not looking to purchase a solution and trying to make your business fit the technology.

2. Think outside the box.Your current solution may not offer all the features and functionality that next-gen solutions can offer your business — so also list capabilities you would like to gain through this upgrade. For example, food and beverage vendors are dealing with significant SKU proliferation and pressures from a very competitive market. Next-gen DSD solutions can help you put more emphasis on your sales and merchandising process, enabling you to upload video or market stats onto your sales reps’ tablets to enhance sales presentations and to collect market intelligence through surveys or shelf checks.

3. Eliminate siloes.Next-gen DSD solutions facilitate better communication and information sharing among all areas of your operation, including:

  • Pre-route tasks: Picking and packing, route planning, and load management
  • Transportation: GPS tracking, vehicle diagnostics, and customer alerts for delivery time
  • Delivery: RF or bar code scanning, proof of delivery, and shelf resets
  • Merchandising: Monitoring promotion compliance, competitor price checks, and consumer intercept surveys
  • Information access: Price lookup, inventory data, and customer account history
  • Sales: Client surveys, business intelligence, and data analytics to help target promotions
  • Payment: Signature capture and mobile payment

This data captured by your new DSD solution can help streamline your processes and provide real-time inventory, transportation, and account information. Make sure your new solution includes the necessary communications and wireless infrastructure upgrades needed to support reliable, secure data transmission.

4. Save time.Most likely, controlling labor costs is one of your priorities. DSD operators can slash the time it takes to perform manual administrative tasks with automated scheduling, tracking, data analysis, and reporting provided by your new DSD solution. Look for a solution that addresses your most time-consuming tasks.

5. Keep your options open.Many legacy DSD systems use rugged handheld devices running Windows Embedded. Your options now include DSD systems hosted in the cloud and running iOS or Android applications on a variety of tablets and other mobile devices. Not only are there more options for an operating system, the mobile market continues to evolve. Instead of making an investment in a solution designed to run one operating system, consider cross-platform options that will allow you to switch to different applications without replacing hardware.

The opportunities for productivity gains in the food and beverage industry through the use of DSD can be remarkable. The functionality new DSD solutions provide far surpasses what legacy systems can accomplish. Among you and your top competitors, which will be the first to have this advantage?

Manufacturing Route Accounting Transportation and Logistics

The Benefits of Route Accounting Solutions for Bakeries

Because their products are highly perishable and require weekly or even daily replenishment, bakery companies have a keen interest in any technology that can improve route efficiency and order accuracy. Route accounting solutions for bakeries can accomplish both of those goals with the help of mobile computers and real-time wireless communication.

The quality of information exchanged between your field sales force and the corporate office has a significant impact on the efficiency of your route processes. A route accounting solution designed for bakeries enables your field sales representative to service the customer, accept purchase orders on site, provide invoices and collect payment, while better managing customer and truck inventories.

Route accounting solutions enable a two-way exchange of data. As sales orders are sent in, customer and pricing information is automatically updated on the mobile device. This eliminates error-prone paper forms, faxes, and phoned-in orders.  Below are some of the other key benefits of a route accounting solution for bakeries:
Real-Time Customer Inventory DataA mobile route accounting solution that uses barcode scanning to track deliveries and returns helps bakeries keep track of sales at each customer site. This helps better manage the product mix at each location and allows bakeries to document and identify shifts in demand. Having that information on hand also helps the sales team make better recommendations to customers.

Store managers, sales managers, and delivery personnel spend hundreds of hours trying to resolve invoice discrepancies. Route accounting solutions can eliminate this unproductive work by providing real-time, accurate order and invoice data to all parties, along with fast route audit and settlement processes.

Real-time order management helps improve production. Better inventory information also helps reduce out of stocks and returns. With a better idea of how fast inventory is moving at each customer site, bakeries can also reduce stales rates, which not only improves customer relationships, but also saves money.

A More Efficient Sales force

Route accounting solutions for bakeries put valuable customer, order, and inventory data right in the sales reps’ hands. This reduces manual data entry, paper shuffling, and phone calls that were required to complete deliveries or answer customer questions. Taking shelf inventory is a snap using a barcode scanner, and saves even more time.

Sales representatives can quickly complete the delivery and order taking process, which gives them more time to spend upselling customers or re-working displays to improve sales. This also helps the reps save time for the customers (who can reduce receiving time), and allows them to complete more stops on their own routes.

Increased Sales

Route accounting software for bakeries provides real-time customer data to sales reps, who can then use that sales history and promotional data to more effectively engage with customers at the point of transaction. They can immediately take advantage of potential add-on or upsell opportunities, provide more competitive pricing and discounts, generate quotes on the spot, and accept payment using their mobile computers.

Reduced Paperwork

Using a mobile route accounting solution for bakeries, you can let customers check their sales information right on the mobile device and collect electronic signatures on the screen. Reps can issue invoices and receipts via e-mail or with mobile printers as soon as the delivery is made or payment is collected. All sales orders can be viewed on screen, which eliminates the need for bundles of paper order sheets. Removing paper and manual data collection also reduces errors.

This not only saves printing time and paper costs, but also eliminates problems associated with lost documents. All of the information can immediately be uploaded into billing, accounting, and inventory systems. If there is a question about an order or delivery later, sales reps can easily call up that information electronically. The billing cycle is also accelerated because invoices can be generated instantaneously.

Route accounting solutions for bakeries can make your sales representatives and delivery drivers more informed, effective and efficient. This saves time and reduces costs, while also enabling the entire team to provide better customer service and boost sales.

Manufacturing RFID Hardware RFID Software

How Bakeries Can Benefit from RFID Tracking Solutions

One of the biggest challenges direct store delivery (DSD) operations face is the proper management of reusable containers.  This challenge is especially evident in the bakery industry, where reusable plastic trays are often used in the transportation, delivery, storage, and display of baked goods.  These plastic trays can often be lost or stolen during the delivery cycle, creating a significant asset management problem for bakeries. In addition to having trouble tracking the trays, bakeries must deal with the expenses associated with replacing lost trays.

The Problem

Whether bakeries are utilizing plastic trays or some other reusable container, the use of outdated or inefficient asset tracking technology is an unnecessary burden.  Bakeries that are unable to properly track their assets are susceptible to extra expenses and other financial problems.  Having to constantly purchase new trays or containers digs into profit margins and not knowing where assets are will lead to a decrease in productivity.

The Solution

The best way to gain complete control over assets is to employ an RFID tracking solution.  RFID tags can be embedded into reusable trays or other assets, making it easier than ever to track their locations.  The embedded RFID tags can also automatically trigger replenishment orders for specific locations that are running low. The RFID system must also be implemented in the manufacturing facility and delivery trucks in order to ensure that the trays/containers can be tracked throughout the delivery process.

Of course, installing an RFID tracking system is not a one step process. The bakery must be thoroughly analyzed before the system is designed and the RFID tracking system must be tested extensively to ensure that each aspect is working perfectly.

With RFID tracking systems in place, bakeries should have no problems tracking reusable assets.  Drivers are given mobile computers with attached RFID readers, enabling them to read the tags during the delivery and pick-up processes. Once the assets are returned, they are cleaned and then scanned again to ensure that the RFID tags are still in working order.  Any assets that have faulty tags can be taken out of production to be retagged.

Once products are loaded into the trays/containers, the RFID chips can be programmed to reflect the necessary product information.  The assets are scanned again at the loading dock and upon entering the trucks.  If any container is put into the wrong truck, an alarm will sound and corrections can be made; this ensures that every delivery is accurate.

When properly implemented, an RFID tracking system can make sure trays, containers, goods, and more can be accounted for – throughout the entire cycle.

The Benefits

An RFID tracking system should be put into action in stages, and staff will likely have to review operational processes to improve workflow, but the benefits it can provide outweigh these temporary inconveniences.  Bakeries with tracking systems in place can accurately track route deliveries, reduce or eliminate the loss of reusable assets, and even automatically generate replenishment orders.

Visibility is one of, if not the most, important aspects of the supply chain.  RFID is invaluable because it allows bakeries to see what’s going on at every stage of the delivery process.