Introducing technology into a manufacturing, warehouse or distribution centre environment is becoming more the norm than ever before. As both managers and employees become more acclimatised to smart handheld devices, tablet PC’s and sophisticated management programs, resistance to improving operations using technology is fading.
The humble hard working and often neglected forklift has now come under the spotlight for a technology overhaul with a large selection of wirelessly connected computers outfitted with barcode scanners, RFID readers and optical OCR cameras becoming more popular as the key benefits of this technology is exposed and explored. However as with any supply chain investment you need to do your homework.
In this article we will provide an overview of where forklift mounted computing will improve efficiencies and what pitfalls you need to be aware of.
Where does the benefit come from?
For those of us that love new technology we can easily forget why we needed it in the first place. It is important to remember the basic areas of improvement that you have identified that need addressing and never compromise on getting those points included in your final purchase.
By bringing real-time communication and stock movement information into the cabin you are allowing for accurate and “live” visibility of your warehouse operations. Orders can be sent to the forklift operator while confirmation of orders picked can be instantly sent back to the warehouse. With this stock quantities and locations can be viewed in real-time allowing for stock movements to be efficiently directed from a single control point.
What can I do now that I couldn’t do before?
Regardless of which in-vehicle mobile computer technology you decide on, as long as you have a continuous live feed with your back end system to your device, many new efficient processes and key benefits become available to you such as:
- “Push” order picks – Orders can be electronically sent to the vehicle mobile computer, eliminating the need for the driver to pick up physical orders and return back to the forklift.
- Directed order picking – You can guide forklift drivers to the exact location of any stock item. Know how many items are available at that location. Automatically record what order the stock was allocated to and receive a confirmation once the order has been picked.
- Rolling stocktakes – Your vehicle mobile computer can have full access to the inventory database allowing for a “rolling stocktake” which is simply a re-scan of every item in a specific location at any time your workers are free to confirm the stock levels are as per the inventory logs. This procedure dramatically increases the accuracy of your formal stocktakes and usually eliminates any stock discrepancies.
- Reduce human input error – Automating your scanning process or having the mobile device go through an item and quantity confirmation process will reduce stocking and picking errors by up to one hundred percent. Using the barcode scanning procedure rather than manual entry is a great way of facilitating this and the device can confirm the barcodes via its access to your inventory database.
- User log-in and accountability – By including a unique pin number for the operator to log in and out of the session with the device, you can now also record which staff completed what stock movements. The data is always available and can assist in the tracking of how errors occur.
- Take to the next level – Now that your vehicle is continuously transmitting and receiving data wirelessly you can purchase additional sensors for your forklift such as vehicle positioning and proximity sensors. Be aware though that this usually requires the purchase of software, hardware and sometimes middleware.
Impact on OH&S?
OH&S reports have found that most forklift accidents occur when the driver is getting off or on the forklift, by reducing the need for the driver to leave the forklift driver safety is dramatically increased due to less people walking around the warehouse, especially in low visibility areas.
Can this be incorporated into our “Green” initiatives?
Any time you transfer your communications from a paper based system to an electronic process you have the opportunity to reduce paper usage and energy consuming actions of your indoor vehicles. The significance of the improvements depends on how you were operating prior to the installation.
The old and the new - which technologies do I choose?
For those early adopters of industrially applied I.T. devices, the term “Forklift Mounted Computers” conjures up images of huge tablet PC’s weighing nearly 10kgs and running on Windows CE or ’98 and delivering less processing power than an average smart phone. Today things have changed, tablet PC’s specifically designed for forklifts and trucks are still available, but there are now a terrific range of handheld PDA’s that feature high performance, modern operating systems, a choice of wireless connectivity options and can be mounted via a cradle to any powered vehicle.
The key to choosing which type of device is dependent on the software you are running. This can be broken down into three basic types:
- Older software directed or Windows based warehouse management systems, these require a terminal version of the software to be developed that can be installed and operated on your device. This approach is called terminal emulation where you literally emulate the functionality and appearance of your existing backend system into a smaller program on your device.
- New browser based programming, as found with most modern warehouse management solutions where the interface to operate is via a web browser accessing either a local or cloud based http/IP address.
- A large “thick client” back-end solution with additional modules or customisation included such as advanced SAP solutions which will require the development of a “thin client” version to be created or purchased for the mobile computer selected.
Larger tablet style PC’s mounted onto forklift’s such as the Motorola VC 5090 have the advantage of a large screen, large buttons and can have external devices such as a tethered barcode scanner, RFID reader or OCR Optical Camera attached. If you require the above type 1 or type 3 then you may need to have a large screen to be able to operate the software. These tablets are wirelessly connected back to your WMS system updating in real-time your inventory levels, stock positions and any other information you have transmitted.
Smaller PDA devices mounted via a vehicle Cradle such as the Motorola MC9000 series, are much less expensive, don’t take up as much cabin space and can be pointed in any direction to read barcodes, take photos and even capture signatures. The downside is the lack of real-estate on screen. The type 2 scenario is ideal for these devices or in the case of type 3 where there is a mobile device module available, the smaller screens will display a custom version of your application with large buttons, pull down screens and so on. In the case of a type 2 solution, the purchase of an industrial browser program that will take the html browser based layout and re-organise and proportion the controls to suit a small screen is worth the cost.
“Mobile computers mounted on indoor vehicles have proven time and time again to increase efficiencies far above the purchase costs” comments Neil Crump, joint Managing Direct of Peacock Bros. “this is an area of improvement we are finding more and more companies are exploring and bringing to the forefront.”
Peacock Bros. have years of experience in the installation of indoor vehicle mounted mobile computer solutions for companies across Australia and New Zealand and are the exclusive distributors for the SkyTrax Indoor Vehicle Positioning System within this region.
More information? For more information, please contact us or submit an online enquiry.