Maximizing productivity is the holy grail of warehouses. When it works, the flow of goods in and out works like a well-oiled machine and targets are met. But when it malfunctions, efficiency drops and those targets become harder to reach.
There are lots of things that impact productivity, both positively and negatively. In this blogpost we’re going to look at how technology can turn from an enabler into a hindrance.
In today’s digital age, warehouse workers depend on wireless networks as they need accurate real-time data for picking and delivering the right items. Dead spots must be avoided, but these are big vacuous buildings. No wireless network exists that can cover an entire warehouse from a single transmitter. Instead several access points ensure connectivity from one end to the other. But in a building so large, it can be hard to make sure there are no gaps in connection.
And even when you have total coverage, the items inside the warehouse can cause problems. For example, steel shelving and metal cages deflect signals, wood and clothing absorb signals, and concrete almost totally blocks signals.
But it might not only be your WiFi that’s causing poor connectivity. Your devices could also be part of the problem. Consumer tablets and handhelds can’t cope with the connectivity demands of a warehouse environment. The antennas in these devices are designed to connect to a transmitter five to ten meters away. In warehouses they could be 75 meters away.
What you need is a robust wireless infrastructure and seamless roaming from one access point to another at the speed of a forklift. It’s a good idea to get advice from an external expert about the best WiFi design and equipment.
We’ve all experienced the frustration of old technology. An old computer that takes forever to boot or an ancient cell that can no longer be updated with the latest operating system and is rendered obsolete. And it’s just the same in warehouses.
Out of date software can take time to load up new tasks. Old WiFi can be slow or have bad coverage. Compatibility issues between old technology and newer systems can mean things simply don’t work together.
There’s no swap out solution to outdated technology, it’s an embedded problem that can continue to stall your workforce and your operation unless addressed.
Despite technology coming on leaps and bounds since it first emerged, the cold hard fact is that computers still breakdown. The demanding setting of a warehouse requires rugged devices that can handle the dusty environments and survive multiple drops.
The hard wheels of a forklift on an equally unforgiving floor surface makes for a juddering ride for driver and device. Components on electrical boards and cables may shake loose rendering the device unusable. In addition, items tumble from racking, tools get dropped or the device itself falls on the floor and smash, there goes the touch screen.
The impact of a computer breakdown depends on if you have swap out units to minimize the delay. If you don’t, there's a hard stop as your workforce tries to fix the problem.
We regularly hear from warehouse managers who experience multiple computer breakdowns, often as a result of purchasers or IT managers trying to save some money by buying semi-rugged devices. For example, consumer products that may have a protective case but are not engineered to work in harsh conditions. Those warehouses with rugged devices tend to have less breakdowns.
Employees are the life blood of a warehouse. You need to keep them moving, picking and delivering items to meet targets. And this is exactly what they want to do – complete their work in the quickest and safest way.
Unfortunately, your workforce can easily become unengaged. Complex devices, software that doesn’t work, out of date technology that’s not fit for purpose and poor connectivity all slow down your employee and this is when productivity drops.
As well as being integral to your productivity, your workforce is also a valuable mine of information and ideas about how to optimize the work and save time. By involving your staff in this way, you empower and engage them to do a good job.
Sometimes you have the best technology, the most engaged workforce, super reliable and up to date devices, but the kit is just wrong for the job so your employees spend time trying to find ways to make it work or get distracted instead of dealing with the job in hand.
Perhaps you’re running a standard Windows operating system instead of custom imaging, diverting your workforce’s attention from their tasks. Maybe your hardware isn’t adapted to your operation or is missing important functions that slows down your employees. Or you could have devices that just aren’t suitable, forcing people to work in ways that are ineffective or unproductive.
Having proper rugged devices, designed for your operation can not only vastly improve the speed of your workers, but also cut down on errors.
How to meet your targets
This may seem like a long list of problems, but there are always solutions. We work with businesses to identify these kinds of issues and help them find solutions to get their productivity back in the fast lane.
Feel free to contact us to learn more.
by Christian Funk
Director Business Development