Fleet Management & Forklift Safety Blog

Trend watch: Are consumer-grade devices about to edge out RF technology?

Posted by Neil O'Connell, SVP Technology, Innovation, & Product Development on Jan 5, 2016 4:00:00 AM

Samsung-Galaxy-A7.jpgCount on seeing more next-generation smartphones and tablets in warehouse applications this year. Although modern-day mobile devices have been slow to replace traditional RF-units, the trend is gaining strength as managers realize the advantages and get more comfortable with the technology in their personal lives.

To quote Tom Singer, a principal at Tompkins International, a supply chain management consultancy:

While ruggedized RF [radio frequency] units are well suited for warehouse applications, next-generation tablets and smartphones do offer a number of advantages, specifically in the areas of cost, integration with other core business systems, and the ability to visually communicate information in a way that's more impactful than what can be displayed in the small real estate of a text-oriented RF terminal screen.”

An issue of money

Cost alone is likely to play a leading role as managers decide where to invest. An RF terminal can easily cost several thousand dollars while tablets and smartphones come at a fraction of the price. VMT manufacturers are notably responding with VMTs that more closely resemble ruggedized tablets, featuring touch screens and supporting a variety of operating systems. From a price perspective, however, it is still a tough challenge for those vendors.

Even if tablets and smartphones do not hold up as well in a harsh warehouse environment, it is likely to still make financial sense when a brand new iPod Touch or Android costs less than 10 percent of your average RF gun. Having a device that survives a 10-foot drop may suddenly seem less important.

 You can easily imagine the cost savings multiplied by the number of devices you need. Upgrades are also less costly, allowing you to swiftly take advantage of next-generation technology. When you are no longer financially tied to an RF gun and the systems it relies on, you have the flexibility to make better long-term business decisions.

Ease of use

The intuitive use of consumer tablets and smartphones is another selling point. Smartphone technology has become ubiquitous in our culture, a fact that will increase accuracy and greatly reduce training time. Employees will not need to learn a new system; they can simply shoehorn your operating processes into a piece of technology that they use every day. As another supply chain consultant points out in TechTarget, consumer-grade mobile technology lends itself to tracking deliveries, especially in remote locations where the cost of installing a complete RF network is not justified.  

 Smartphones and tablets essentially allow decision makers to have the entire supply chain at their fingertips. Instant access to data on the warehouse floor paves the way for better decisions in real time and helps you quickly reallocate resources to meet your daily goals.

 And don't underestimate its handy size. At ¼ of a pound, an iPhone fits – unlike an RF gun – into a pocket. This makes picking easier for your workers and frees them up to be more mobile and flexible throughout the warehouse. With smartphone technology constantly evolving, you may even decide smart watches or glasses work for your organization as well.

What do you need?

In the end, the real driver is application needs. While smartphones and tablets clearly have a large commercial application base, what do you need in your warehouse operations?

For most operations, it is more often than not interfacing with the WMS, which is primarily VT Telnet. The good news is that with VMT, tablet or other, you can get support for your applications, including telematics on one display, with TotalTrax browser-based displays.

As more and more operations overcome the cultural hurdles that a switch to a mobile workflow implies, consumer-grade devices are bound to become omnipresent in warehouse management.


Topics: market trends, smartphones, VMTs, tablets

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