Pen and paper looks set to become a thing of the past within the logistics arena as increasingly data capture systems are being implemented to boost efficiency and speed up processes. In any operation where items need to be tracked, whether it’s point to point pick up and delivery, hub and spoke depot operations or asset management, there seems to be a strong business case for swapping labour-intensive manual procedures for something a little more sophisticated.
Adrian Lawson, business development director at mobile technology services company Ryzex, says: “With the right data capture system, manual processes are automated resulting in these processes being speeded up and being carried out with greater accuracy. This leads to increased efficiency and ultimately greater profitability – something which is very important in the current deepening recession.”
Kitchen and homeware company Lakeland has been working with Belgravium for more than five years and is still using the original Monaco radio data terminals it purchased, as well as Atlanta hand-helds for mail order put-away, a recently purchased Toronto full screen terminal for the reach truck operations team leader and is now trialling Belgravium Bluetonth scanners.
Inventory team leader Chris Iveson says: “The removal of the distraction of paper picking in the distribution area has significantly reduced picking errors and increased efficiency dramatically. We also benefit from the real-time stock movement updates having 100 per cent confidence that all stock information is right up-to-date.”
Honeywell has just released the Dolphin 9950, the latest product in its 9900 mobile computer series, which has been designed for scan-intensive environments such as warehousing, distribution, supply chain and back-end retail. The new model is lightweight and integrates a pistol-grip for more comfortable singlehanded data collection over long periods of time. It also includes new keypad configuration options and is powered by Windows Mobile 6.
Eric De Greef, Honeywell’s product marketing manager mobility systems EMEA, says: “As devices must use the same processes they are very comparable, so companies must do something extra to differentiate themselves from their competitors.”
He points out that Honeywell has invested in the ergonomics and ruggedness of its hand-helds. “We have spent a great deal of time ouron the road with mobile workers to develop purpose-built devices which have many improvements compared to our competitors.”
De Greef adds that to “protect the investment” of its customers, many of which are now migrating from the Dolphin 9550 to the next generation 9950, Honeywell kept much of the legacy hardware. such as accessories, batteries and device peripherals the same.
Colin Pike, country manager for Datalogic Mobile UK. says to differentiate its offering, it has patented a number of innovations like the visual scan confirmation technology used in its Kyman and Skorpio series. “As most warehouses and DCs are by their very nature noisy environments. an audible beep is very often not heard.” he explains. “We improve this failing by changing the red aiming scan line to a green dot projected onto the barcode itself upon a successful scan. This can improve throughput by 20 per cent.”
The cost of upgrading a system can seem daunting, but Lawson says: “Although there is an initial outlay to purchase and implement new data capture technology, customers find that they quickly get a great Raj by replacing older devices that can be prone to frequent failure resulting in increased downtime and inefficiency.”
To assist this transition Ryzex offers customers a managed service agreement. “We will roll the cost of new hardware plus software applications and ongoing maintenance and support into a monthly payment. This means that the cost of new technology can be taken away from the capex budget and married up with the ROI.”
Another option, particularly for smaller companies, is the pay-as-you-go proof of delivery system offered by The PODFather. Jobs are entered into the device manually or uploaded from an existing system via an XML interface and can then be used both in the office and on the road. Once a delivery is complete the signature is captured immediately using 3G or a GPRS equipped hand-held portable.
Alastair Broom, managing director of Valley Technology, creator of The PODFather, says: “Part of the logistics management framework is ensuring that any proof of delivery documentation gets rerumed from a driver intact, but reliance on paper is fallible.”
Because of the associated costs of implementing or upgrading hardware, Mark Croxton, lJ K managing director of software solutions provider Aldata, has seen a trend emerge for multi-modal devices that are able to support a nwnber of applications including scanning, printing, voice and RFID. “We arc seeing a move from proprietary to open technologies and a move from single function to multi-modal devices because it is much more cost effective to do it that way. There is a move to PDAs and more multi-functional devices.”
However, Larry Klimczyk, managing director of Blackbay, says it is important to consider the long-term cost implications of owning and maintaining devices. rather than just the initial cost of deployment as “industry studies estimate that on average the total cost of ownership of a rugged PDA is £1,350 whereas the TCO of a non-rugged PDA can exceed £2,000 over the same five year period.”
Klimczyk reckons RPID is also being pushed to the forefront. “As proof of service or delivery becomes more and more embedded in enterprise mobility applications, then RFID technology will need to be integrated into more and more mobile applications. There is no doubt that organisations are still trying to understand what RFID can do for their business … Mobile providers need to understand this and ensure their solutions are fully capable of integrating with RFID technology.”
lIe suggests that IT managers are “understandably cautious” of implementing new solutions that “may blow big holes in their IT budget” and as such they are looking for RFID solutions that will integrate with existing rniddleware without having to overhaul legacy systems.
Ryzcx’sAdrian Lawson agrees. He reckons companies are becoming increasingly keen to “future proof’ their data capture systems by integrating RFID capability. He says: “The support for RFID is currently being driven by the need to ensure that solutions are RFJO ready, rather than RFIO actually being deployed today. Most OEMs have snap-on adaptors within their portfolio that give customers RFID capability as and when it is required.”
However, Andy McBain, Motorola’s product manager for RFID and data capture, believes attachments of this kind offer a “compromised solution”, He says: “The overall system suffers when you add bolt-ons to anything as it wasn’t designed to be like that. If you buy a house and build a conservatory it may leak because it was not designed to be there from day one. It’s a compromise.”
To counteract this problem Motorola has launched a new version of the MC9090G-RFID hand-held reader, the first ruggedised reader of its kind to have an integrated RFID antenna rather than a separate clip-on attachment.