Warehouse and distribution center (DC) operators are being put to the test right now in unprecedented ways, as are the numerous technologies that are utilized within the four walls and on loading docks every day. The good news is that both are passing the test exceptionally well, despite what headlines and retailers’ out-of-stocks for certain items might indicate.
These teams are turning around record volumes of commercial and consumer orders with very few delays despite the unique buying patterns caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. Retailers are receiving the inventory they need to restock shelves every day – sometimes multiple times a day – to help offset the consistent run on hot-ticket items, including toilet paper. That speaks volumes to the agility and operational efficiency of warehouse and DC operators and how utilizing mobile technology helps them to absorb the unpredictable flood of orders and fulfill customer requests at a record pace.
Front-line workers who are armed with handheld mobile computers, mobile printers, barcode scanners, augmented reality (AR) apps, head-mounted displays and other wearables can speed through picking, packing, receiving and put-away tasks without making mistakes because they know exactly where to go to retrieve or restock an item. There is no guessing or delay. An order comes in, and they’re off to the races. Those with collaborative push-to-talk features or the ability to “call” co-bots to retrieve picked items to pass along for packing are finding it easier to turnaround orders quickly as pressure builds.
However, some warehouse and DC operators are taking extreme steps to “scale up” their workforce connectivity. Temporary hiring surges mean more workers need mobile devices in hand in the short term if they’re going to be truly efficient and effective. At the same time, suddenly strained operations mean that certain IT projects are being deprioritized and workarounds implemented.
Mobility Can Increase Agility
In order to help maintain the highest levels of productivity, efficiency and competitiveness, warehouse and DC operators have to work harder and faster to implement and scale the enterprise-grade Android mobility solutions that will help safely and securely facilitate a sustainable workflow during peak demand periods such as the one we’re in right now.
What does that mean?
1. Workers must be given the mobile technologies that have been purpose built for their specific jobs. This may mean deploying a couple of different Android mobile computer models within the four walls. Some workers may benefit from a touch-only device while others who rely on heavily “F key” driven workflows may need a hybrid touch and key-based mobile computer. Those who work in cold storage environments and wear heavy gloves are a good example of the latter. Then there could be workers who need AR-enabled mobile computers or an accessory-type, head-mounted display to navigate the aisles and bins faster when fulfillment turnaround times are tight. Extended range scanners are also becoming extremely valuable for workers who need to locate inventory on high shelves as demand increases, and mobile printers can facilitate social distancing by allowing packers to print labels without having to go to a shared printer in some cases.
2. IT must properly configure and secure all mobile devices to enterprise standards. This is critical. There are bad actors who are, unfortunately, trying to take advantage of the chaos created by the COVID-19 outbreak to act on vulnerabilities created by connected devices that have been hurried online to support increased production and fulfillment demand in manufacturing, warehousing and retail environments. Keep in mind those using personal devices in response to new telemedicine and universal telework mandates aren’t the only ones being targeted. This is not the time to become lax on mobile device or network security.
3. Any mobile device – handheld computer, scanner, tablet, printer, wearable or otherwise – must be capable of handling frequent cleaning. This is true of any shared device found in the warehouse or DC, including industrial printers. Devices shouldn’t contribute to the spread of contagions that can cause an already strained workforce to shrink significantly due to illness or quarantines. Learn more about the right way to clean enterprise-grade mobile computers, scanners, tablets and printers here.
4. Mobile devices must have the battery capacity to last through long shifts and the capability to recharge or be swapped out quickly to support around-the-clock operations. Also consider other feature sets needed to expedite actions. For example, do workers need a device with a built-in scanner that can capture multiple barcodes at once or scan from long distances?
Now more than ever, it is critical not to inject risk into warehouse and DC operations by “making exceptions” to the typical mobile device policies just to get more workers online. If you need additional devices to support an expanding workforce and are still using legacy Windows-based mobile computers, you could integrate certified refurbished devices from the manufacturer into the mix to maintain a common architecture and reduce the burden on IT. If you’re migrating to – or fully running – an enterprise Android architecture, you have the flexibility to add as many different mobile computer models as needed to facilitate the different workflows.
Now’s the time to focus on providing front-line workers with purpose-built mobile computers, printers, scanners, tablets and wearables to increase their agility and maintain the fulfillment continuity that is vitally needed at this critical time.