Industry Solutions Mobility RFID Hardware RFID Software Warehouse and Distribution

4 Ways Mobility and the Internet of Things Benefit Warehouses

The growing Internet of Things (IoT) is on its way to connecting billions of pieces of equipment, consumer products, smart home systems, electronics, and other items. That represents a revolutionary way to collect data from far-flung assets, improving predictive maintenance, providing remote troubleshooting and control capabilities, and creating new ways to leverage large amounts of data that was never before available.

Mobility plays a similar role. Every partner, employee, and customer is potentially available anywhere and anytime, as long as they have their smartphone, tablet, or handheld computer. In combination, mobility and Internet of Things will extend the reach of the enterprise to virtually anywhere.

What does this mean for the warehouse? While mobility and the Internet of Things present plenty of opportunities outside the four walls, they will also have positive effects within the distribution center. The IoT will allow supply chains to create hyper-efficient warehouses that generate fewer shipping errors and hold less inventory.

There are four primary ways that mobility and the IoT will benefit the warehouse:

1. Better inventory management. Shelves full of connected products and smart shipping containers will make it easier to locate and manage inventory in the warehouse. These systems can automatically generate alerts if stock is running low or if temperatures or other conditions may jeopardize the quality of goods. Shelving and racking can become part of the Internet of Things, using real-time connectivity to help guide picking and putaway. The IoT could also make it easier to manage returns, since the returned item itself can communicate important information about its status, location, and ultimate point of disposition.

2. Improved efficiency and less labor.With better information about where goods are located, employees can do their work much faster. Armed with mobile computers, staff can do their work anywhere in the warehouse. The IoT can also be used to enable more warehouse automation, generating real-time demand signals that can guide robotic picking and putaway systems. Data from connected inventory and infrastructure can also help warehouse operators identify bottlenecks and monitor unsafe working conditions. Using that data, the warehouse can be reconfigured to be safer and to provide the most efficient picking paths and inventory configurations.

3. Better customer engagement.With the type of granular visibility into inventory and warehouse operations the Internet of Things and mobility provides, you can keep your customers better informed about the status of their inventory or orders. Data from connected products in the field can also be leveraged to generate more accurate demand signals and order/production forecasts.

In addition, the warehouse can provide new types of value-added services to customers using IoT and mobility technology. With better information about inventory and future demand, warehouses could offer more capacity to their customers, providing a sort of “burst capacity” for short-term increases capacity. Having better inventory information sooner means warehouses can more successfully offer cross-docking, just-in-time, and other types of services in a more cost-effective way.

4. Reduced risk.The IoT can help warehouses better detect risk and avoid mistakes/accidents that can create losses in the supply chain. Sensors in the warehouse can monitor temperature, moisture, and other conditions. Data coming from shipping conveyances, vehicles, and the products themselves can be combined to reduce theft, counterfeiting, diversion, and spoilage.

The Internet of Things and mobile technology can make the supply chain more flexible, reliable, predictable, and transparent. The warehouse can benefit from the IoT both internally, in terms of productivity and efficiency, and externally, through improved customer service. With this technology, your entire operation could see gains in efficiency, productivity, and accuracy, which can help your business grow.



Industry Solutions Warehouse and Distribution

5 Ways to Develop More Productive and Efficient Warehouse Operations

When it comes to warehouse operations, any improvement in productivity or efficiency can go straight to the bottom line, through reduced costs, less labor, and increased throughput. A more efficient warehouse can improve customer service and create the capacity you need to take on more business.

While every warehouse is different, there are a number of common approaches to achieving a more productive and efficient warehouse:

1. Use automatic identification and data collection technology in combination with a robust WMS.A strong warehouse management system (WMS) will help you streamline warehouse operations by generating automated pick lists, managing inventory, suggesting pick/put-away routes, and eliminating the need for paper pick sheets.

Using mobile computers and barcode scanning will eliminate manual data entry, reduce mistakes, and significantly reduce the labor and time needed for verifying shipments. If you are in an industry that uses radio frequency identification (RFID) technology, handheld RFID scanners can scan dozens or hundreds of ID tags at a time — producing an even bigger efficiency gain in shipping and receiving operations. Hands-free picking solutions that use voice technology can also speed up warehouse operations while improving the ergonomics of your technology.

2. Take advantage of your vertical space. Warehouse operators should take advantage of every square foot of space they have. If floor space is in short supply, then consider building up instead of out. By extending your shelving and racking upward you can greatly increase the volume of goods you can handle without eating up additional room on the floor.

Pallet racking and other systems are easy to use and can improve workplace safety (as well as warehouse operations) by reducing clutter and making it easier for employees and material handling vehicles to move around the facility. Invest in a variety of racks and shelves that fit the size of your goods. That can include using standardized bins for smaller items. With well-organized racking and shelving, it will be easer for employees to pick and put-away inventory.

3. Consider robotics and other material handling automation solutions. With the use of more racking and shelving, you may find that you need more automated material handling equipment. Conveyors can make it easier to move goods across a facility while reducing strain on employees. Storage systems that can automatically move bins up and down through high shelving systems can also increase efficiency of your warehouse operations.

Robotic picking systems are also increasingly popular in warehouse and manufacturing environments. These robots can be used to pick items from shelves/bins at any height and accurately return the goods for sorting or shipping. They can operate across multiple shifts (saving labor) and perform work that might otherwise result in workplace injuries for regular employees.

4. Organize your warehouse for maximum efficiency. Evaluate your picking paths and methodology as well as how you have organized goods without your warehouse. The workflow in your warehouse should help ensure speed, accuracy, and accountability. Fast moving items should be placed close to shipping; items commonly shipped together should be co-located on the shelf/rack.

De-clutter the warehouse to remove obstacles that can slow down pick operations, and find ways to reduce the amount of walking that staff members have to do in order to complete their work. Have processes in place so that employees don’t have to leave their work areas in order to address problems. For example, create a space for packers to place incorrectly picked goods so that pick/put-away staff can retrieve them. Use your WMS to create efficient picking plans. Constantly re-evaluate your inventory and order patterns, and reorganize based on changes in order volume.

5. Institute continuous improvement. Don’t consider an efficiency initiative as something that will eventually be completed. You will need to continuously measure and monitor performance, and then adjust your warehouse operations to match any changes in your business. Don’t just focus on short-term improvements; set goals and objectives, and measure against them.

With the right physical infrastructure, organization, and technology in place, you can improve the efficiency and productivity of your warehouse operations while also boosting customer service and making your warehouse a safer place to work.

Asset Management Custom Application Development Field Sales and Delivery RFID Software Transportation and Logistics

Developing a More Efficient Yard Management Strategy

Even with leading edge supply chain management tools, the trailer yard can be a black hole when it comes to inventory or asset visibility. Transportation management and warehouse management have improved operations prior to shipment arrival and after the goods are unloaded, but there is an efficiency and visibility gap between those two activities.

That’s where the yard management system (YMS) comes into play. Using these solutions can help you prioritize shipment arrivals, manage yard activity, improve efficiency, reduce unnecessary labor, and help track and identify trailer contents. These solutions are critical for developing a more efficient yard management strategy.

Here are some key steps to take to improve yard operations:

Develop a plan for improving yard management. Identify chokepoints in the facility. Find out which loads have been the most problematic to process, and investigate the reasons for those delays. If there are specific types of goods that require special handling (i.e., produce), outline what those needs are and what resources are required to successfully process those trailers.

Also, evaluate other processes that could be bogging down the yard. Returns management or other warehouse processes could be causing delays in the yard. Make sure you evaluate the incoming and outgoing processes that impact operations.
The project team should also set realistic goals and parameters for yard improvements. Establish allowable timeframes for trailer movement, and create an escalation process so that trailers that exceed those limits can be given priority.

Implement a YMS: A yard management system can also provide the visibility and downstream reporting that shippers need to keep their customers updated on shipment arrival and departure times.

Using a YMS helps better manage yard jockey activities because the system knows where each trailer is and where it needs to go. By improving the flow of trailers through the yard, shipments are unloaded on time and drivers don’t waste valuable minutes or hours waiting for their turn at the dock. Driver time can cost upwards of $50 an hour or more; by reducing the time spent checking in and unloading, companies can drive significant cost out of the supply chain and improve productivity.

It’s also important to minimize “lost” trailers in the yard. In large, busy yards it’s easy to lose track of any single trailer. By properly prioritizing and tracking those trailers, you can improve customer service while reducing the type of chaos that can result from manual processes. For large yards with a lot of dropped loads, a YMS can ensure you are properly tracking inventory, avoiding demurrage fees, and giving each shipment the correct priority based on its contents and customer requirements.

Evaluate your trailer yard layout. The yard should be divided into clearly marked zones (arrival, pick-up, empties, priority loads, repairs, etc.) so that drivers and jockeys can easily identify where they need to go. Just like in the warehouse, you should design the yard to limit moves and distances to gain efficiency.  A real-time intelligent YMS can direct the drivers to specific locations, and these locations can be validated via GPS to ensure trailer locations are accurate and up-to-date.

Improve dock scheduling processes. A dock scheduling system can help you better schedule labor capacity and develop a scheduling plan for the drivers that minimizes wait times, which will further improve yard management. Dock scheduling solutions can also help you measure loading/unloading times (for improvement purposes), record late arrivals, and devise scorecards to identify reliable suppliers and carriers.

Consider real-time location technology. Yard visibility can be greatly enhanced through the use of GPS and RFID technology. For example, the TrackX Yard solution combines RFID and GPS to automate yard operations, providing an ROI in 12 months or less. These solutions create a real-time location system in the yard that provides complete trailer visibility, which eliminates manual searches, reduces human error, and automates yard inventories. In addition, RFID can provide real-time information on the location of other yard assets, which helps optimize operations.

A more efficient yard management strategy can help eliminate expensive bottlenecks at the dock, and help you gain even more benefits from your existing supply chain and warehouse management solutions.

Contact omniQ for further information regarding optimizing your operations and trailer status visibility through a real-time Yard Management System.

Barcode Industry Solutions Mobility Warehouse and Distribution

Voice Picking: 4 Ways Distribution Centers Benefit

Good warehouse managers and distribution center operators are always looking for ways to improve operational efficiency and to implement cost-saving measures. Order picking is a crucial part of the distribution process, and it’s an area that can be substantially improved through one simple change: the use of a voice picking system.

With voice picking, employees receive verbal instructions through the warehouse management system to their wireless headsets. This replaces paper lists and handheld devices such as tablets or barcode scanners that require manual data entry. Using this type of system offers many benefits in four key areas: productivity, accuracy, workforce advantages, and improved safety.

  • Productivity:Time is money, particularly in today’s competitive business environments, where speed of order fulfillment contributes to both sales volume and customer satisfaction. With a voice picking system, employees can work faster because they can be listening and responding while on the move, rather than having to study orders on paper or devices. They can also pick items more effectively because both hands are free — no juggling lists or scanners along with the picks. Another advantage is immediate communication with management, so any problems can be reported and solved on the spot. Companies utilizing this technology report productivity increases anywhere from 15 to 35 percent.
  • Accuracy:While speed counts in fulfillment, accuracy is even more important. It doesn’t matter how fast an order ships if it contains the wrong items. Returns and replacements can be costly, not only in terms of time and money but in customer satisfaction and company reputation. The accuracy rate of voice picking can exceed 99 percent. With a voice system, workers can quickly and easily verify location and item information by repeating key numbers for confirmation. This method also facilitates correct fulfillment of more complex or specialized orders (for example, a liquor distributor dealing with split-case orders). The system can also increase accuracy of inventory counts, which can be updated as each task is completed.
  • Workforce Advantages:The ability to significantly improve productivity and accuracy creates a higher degree of job satisfaction for employees. They also benefit from knowing they are being given the most effective tools and up-to-date technology to help do their jobs. This satisfaction can result in a lower turnover rate, which means less time training new hires. Even when new employees are needed (an increase in seasonal workers, for example), training time and costs can be reduced with a voice picking system. Users can learn the basics of the system in a matter of hours and gain proficiency quickly. In addition, the direct communication of the headset allows them to ask questions at any time and receive guidance as they go.
  • Safety:Warehouses and distribution centers can be full of potential hazards, and workplace accidents can result in major losses of time and money as well as personal injury. Voice picking systems can improve safety records. When employees do not have to focus on paper lists or data on handheld devices, they can pay more attention to their surroundings and be alert to any hazards. The headsets leave both hands free for climbing ladders, using stair railings, handling boxes, and performing other tasks more effectively.

With all of the benefits they offer, voice picking systems are a sound investment that will improve efficiency, accuracy, and safety of your operations. Look for an experienced IT integrator who can help choose, install, and maintain a system and related services (such as a wireless network) that will work best for you.

Barcode Mobility Warehouse and Distribution

The Best Strategies for Improving Warehouse Efficiency

Inefficiency can have a corrosive effect on warehouse operations that goes way beyond shipment velocity or throughput. Lack of efficiency can have a domino effect across different warehouse activities, leading to missed shipments, returns, customer chargebacks, and ultimately lost business.

Optimizing warehouse efficiency requires a mix of technology and process changes that, taken in tandem, can both cut costs and create new business opportunities. Here are some key strategies for improving warehouse efficiency:

Process Evaluation: Prior to any major technology deployment, map out every process on the warehouse floor and search for inefficiencies and bottlenecks. If a process doesn’t seem to make sense, find out why it was implemented. In some cases, you may find employees are doing something simply because “It’s always been done that way,” even if “that way” is not longer necessary.

It’s important to root out and change bad processes prior to an automation project, otherwise you’ll simply increase the efficiency of a bad process and get the wrong results at a faster rate.

Automation: Humans are prone to errors, so any opportunity to take the human element out of data entry and data collection is a golden one. Automation technology in the warehouse can take the form of mobile computers, voice-directed picking, pick-to-light systems, conveyers, warehouse management software, bar coded pick lists and putaway locations, or RFID tag tracking.

The key is to reduce or eliminate the number of times an employee has to write things down or search for SKUs. The fewer “touches” on the data, the more accurate it will be and the more quickly your employees can complete their work.

Automation systems can also be set up so that if there is a mispick or mistake, employees are unable to move forward with their picking or packing process until the error is corrected. That way, mistakes are fixed before they reach the customer’s dock door and employees are given a sense of accountability in the process.

Hands-Free Picking: If your warehouse requires a lot of piece picking, then your employees will work faster with both of their hands. Ditch the clipboard or the brick-style mobile computer and see if your picking operations can benefit from a voice-directed picking solution that allows them to work faster.

Measure: Establish key performance indicators (KPIs) and find out how you are performing against your peers and your own month-to-month numbers. Find your baseline and establish targets. Keep the metrics at a manageable number so staff can focus on specific improvements.

Also, determine your fastest and slowest moving SKUs, rank them, and focus your efforts on improving shipping performance for your most in-demand items.

Stay Organized: Keep your shelves and bins neat and organized. If you deal in different sized products, try using different sized shelving for those products to reduce wasted space. Make better use of vertical space as well; it can save you an investment in more square footage down the road.

Once you identify your fast- and slow-moving SKUs, organize the warehouse so that you can reduce the number of times items are touched, and cut down on the distance your employees have to walk to complete an order and print off labels. Most of the wasted time in a typical warehouse involves staff walking from one spot to another, multiple times per day. If you can trim that time you’ll improve warehouse efficiency and make working conditions better for your staff.

Documentation: Keep a central record of your performance against your targets, and make sure managers are aware of any significant improvements or failures. That documentation should extend to process or staffing changes, new customer demands, technology upgrades, and other changes in the warehouse. With that data available, you can map errors or bottlenecks and potentially identify the source of the problem more quickly.

Warehouse efficiency is critical in an increasingly competitive supply chain. Root out poor processes, invest in technology that can improve productivity, and continuously document and measure your performance in order to keep your operation running as lean as possible.

Barcode Mobility RFID Hardware Warehouse and Distribution

Inventory Control: 5 Steps to a Successful Warehouse

There’s a subtle difference between inventory management and inventory control. While opinions vary, most categorize inventory management as more of an external-facing process that involves forecasting, ordering, and making sure you have the right amount of inventory in the right locations.

Inventory control, on the other hand, is all about how you handle that inventory once it’s inside your warehouse. As such, it’s an important warehouse operation that has a huge affect on how quickly and accurately you can respond to customer requests, and the level of service your warehouse is able to provide.

Here are five steps to more effective inventory control:

Track Your Inventory: Barcoding (or RFID tracking) will ensure that you get an accurate count of your entire inventory. By implementing scanning procedures for each movement within the warehouse, you can create real-time visibility into location and inventory levels. Combining this with electronic data interchange, advance shipping notices, and other technology will eliminate mispicks and miscounts, shipping errors, out of stocks, and other negative consequences of inadequate tracking.

Categorize Your Inventory: With accurate data about what is moving in and out of your warehouse, and how often, you can begin ranking the items in the warehouse. In most scenarios, around 80 percent of demand comes from 10 to 20 percent of your SKUs. Dedicate more forecasting and inventory management resources to those fast moving items, while optimizing stocks of slower-moving B and C-level inventory.

Organize Your Inventory: Identifying and categorizing inventory also helps you develop shelving and layout plans for the warehouse so that faster moving items are easier to be found, co-located (if they tend to ship together), kitted, or staged closer to the shipping area. Inventory should be organized in such a way that you improve the efficiency of picking and packing, and reduce the overall cost of fulfillment for each customer order.

Automate Cycle Counting: Cycle counting provides ongoing inventory data so that you have access to accurate inventory more than just once a year. The process can even be automated by using barcode scans to conduct the counts as part of the normal course of business. If there are particular items or areas that tend to create inventory problems or generate errors, count those areas more often.

Reduce Inventory: This is where inventory control and inventory management cross paths. Having too much inventory on hand eats up cash and damage, depreciation, or obsolescence, depending on the type of inventory you are holding. It also makes it harder to keep your warehouse orderly and well organized. Ultimately, old inventory gets marked down and sold.

You’ll need the analytics capability to identify fast and slow moving inventory, and to use sales data to determine just how much inventory you actually need, and whether or not that particular SKU is subject to seasonal swings in demand. It’s tempting to keep extra inventory on hand just in case, but moving to a just-in-time model will free up working capital and reduce the cost of obsolescence.

Improving inventory control will improve inventory management, and your ability to manage the entire supply chain. Well-organized warehouse inventory that can be automatically tracked and easily counted is the foundation of optimized warehouse operations.

Mobility Warehouse and Distribution

4 Ways Wearable Devices are Changing the Warehouse

Traditional warehouse management is being shaken up with the increased pervasiveness of wearable devices. This hands-free technology offers employees a more efficient way to complete tasks, provides management with real-time analytics, and can even prevent fatigue-related accidents.

Improved Efficiency

Pick up a terminal. Scan a package. Put down a terminal. Pick up a package. Repeat. This process may be completed thousands of times, so even the tiniest amount of time saved on each scan will increase overall efficiency tenfold. With wearable devices, the need to pick up and put down a terminal is obsolete. Employees can easily scan a product with a ring scanner, and the information is displayed using an arm-mounted mobile computer, like the Dolphin 70e Mobile Computer, which now offers a wearable solution.

Wearable devices give employees access to rich information, right at their fingertips. They won’t spend time fumbling with different devices. Instead, they have the flexibility and mobility to quickly switch between tasks as necessary.

That’s not all. Even eyeglasses are getting upgrades. The technology is available. Voice commands and information is displayed through the augmented reality glasses. Employees are able to complete tasks while information is relayed to them en route—like directions for the next pickup. Pickup can be confirmed with voice commands. This completely hands-free solution prevents employees from the distraction of pausing to look up pickup information.

Remote Management

Managers will be better able to track employee movement with the use of wearable devices. This might sound like a little much, but the ability to manage employees without physically being on the warehouse floor offers a variety of benefits. Managers will be able to understand how long it takes an average employee to complete a task. This can help them see when a particular employee is under performing and work to resolve the issue. Management can also make adjustments to the structure of tasks to improve efficiencies. The results of these adjustments can be clearly monitored.

Managers will also be able to easily communicate with employees who are in the process of completing tasks with minimal interruptions. Wearable devices connect staff with managers, fellow employees, and real-time data, so they’re better informed and can make better decisions.

Reduced Fatigue-Related Accidents

The 24/7 pace of warehouses can leave workers feeling fatigued, which can result in mistakes—or worse, accidents. Wearable devices in the form of smart watch technology has already been helping consumers improve their sleep and better understand their bodies, so why not apply that to the business world as well?

Wearable devices can track sleep patterns and compare them with established standards. They also have the capability to wake employees at the optimal time, so they wake feeling refreshed and ready to begin their day. This sleep data can be streamed to managers, allowing them to recognize when employees are excessively fatigued. They can then make informed decisions about employees—like sending them home to rest or assigning them to a lower risk task.

Wearable devices offer a new window to information. The applications are endless, but one thing is for sure, warehouses that implement wearable technology will see improved efficiency, better management, and even a reduction in fatigue-related accidents.

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Warehouse and Distribution

Why Voice Enablement is the Missing Feature in Every WMS

The addition of voice enablement to a warehouse management system immediately boosts the efficiency of a business and increases the value of business applications.  These improvements are realized so quickly because voice eliminates pauses in productivity that usually occur when employees enter data into a mobile computer.  The hands-free nature of voice allows employees to continue working throughout the day and can even combine with other types of data entry – like barcode scanning – to ensure the accurate completion of tasks.

Voice enablement is the missing feature in every WMS because it:

  1. Is easy to integrate

Voice technology adds a significant amount of functionality to a warehouse management system, and there’s no need to worry about a time consuming implementation process.   Implementation is so simple because:

  • They often come with Telnet and browser applications
  • There is no voice server
  • No changes need to be made to the WMS
  • Network traffic is not changed
  • There are no voice profiles to manage
  1. Offers increased flexibility for applications

Voice enablement empowers organizations to choose the most efficient input method for each application.  Although voice functionality has a lot of operational benefits, it isn’t meant to be used for every type of task. RFID technology, barcode scanners, and data entry keyboards are all best suited for certain situations.  In instances where serial numbers need to be recorded/inputted, barcode scanners offer the most efficient method.

Voice simply adds an additional layer to a warehouse management system.  Taking advantage of it when necessary and avoiding it when it isn’t needed helps increase the efficiency of business operations.

  1. Increases productivity and accuracy

Even without voice enablement, mobile computers offer impressive boosts to productivity and accuracy.  The advantage of voice enablement is that hands-free operation allows employees to continuously work; there are no pauses while employees enter data into mobile computers.   The system can confirm voice entry, so workers won’t even have to look at the screen to verify that the information was recorded.  Voice enablement makes processes truly streamlined – there are no stoppages or hiccups, so information is being passed on instantaneously.

As important as productivity is, business owners know that information becomes useless if it is inaccurate.  Voice enablement greatly reduces data entry errors because wearable scanners can scan selected items while also recording spoken information.  If there are any discrepancies between the spoken and scanned data, employees can act immediately to set things straight.  This combination of data entry options greatly improves the accuracy of operations.

  1. Improves safety in the workplace

With voice enablement in place, workers no longer have to periodically look at mobile computer screens.  This eliminates distractions and allows them to keep their eyes on the work at hand.  Workers who operate vehicles – such as forklifts – will experience the biggest safety boost; distractions are safety hazards, especially when heavy machinery is involved.

Voice enablement is the missing feature in every warehouse management system.  The operational benefits voice technology provides can work wonders for a business’ efficiency. Voice has been proven to provide information accuracy of 99% and boosts warehouse application productivity by at least 10%.  Voice technology even carries benefits outside of the warehouse; it can be used for mobile inspections and a variety of field services.