September 2012 | Commentary | IT Matters

Wireless Workstations Unplug Savings

Tags: Logistics I.T.

Thanks to wireless technology, carts with on-board power supplies are opening new frontiers of efficiency, productivity, and profitability in distribution centers (DCs). These mobile- powered workstations (MPWs) carry computers, bar-code scanners, and printers, reducing paperwork and operator travel.

DC employees can waste countless hours walking to and from deskbound computers to perform tasks such as logging data, and printing labels and orders. In contrast, employees operating MPWs have continuous, paperless, real-time data access via warehouse management systems, enterprise resource planning, or automated data collection software from anywhere in the DC.

MPWs can increase the number of items processed per day by facilitating the following DC tasks:

  • Receiving. An MPW operator can scan bar codes to identify incoming items, then inspect, re-label, and re-route them—all at the same workstation. The operator can track previously shipped parcels and multiple stockkeeping units (SKUs). They can take and file digital photos as proof of the condition of a returned shipment, immediately credit the customer, and print a receipt.
  • Putaway. Operators can print and scan bar-code labels for SKUs, then place them on shelves, which can also be labeled to help ensure items are put away in the correct place.
  • Directed picking. When the MPW is on a particular aisle, the system's software can tell the operator what other items are needed from that area.
  • Shipping. MPW operators can scan outgoing items to verify order and shipping method accuracy. For breakbulk and mixed-unit orders, MPWs allow fast, on-site printing for documents such as labels and packing slips.

MPWs in Action

Virginia-based Care-A-Lot Pet Supply tested an MPW in its DC, scanning products in its receiving and shipping departments, and printing labels for pallets and general organization. Managers were so pleased with the improved efficiency that they purchased several more MPWs for the DC and the company's retail stores. The workstations delivered a 40-percent productivity increase.

Shipping accuracy was a major concern at automotive spare parts company Magneti Marelli Powertrain USA's plant. The company sought to reduce the number of mislabeled outgoing pallets. A typical shipment consisted of multiple pallets, each requiring at least two labels. The problem was the 30 to 40 steps it took each shipment inspector to reach the label printer. Sometimes, after inspectors retraced their steps, labels in hand, the labels ended up on the wrong pallets.

With MPWs, each inspector can scan and print labels beside the pallet that needs them, greatly reducing errors.

Features That Fit

MPW configuration needs vary by facility. Some basic attributes are sturdiness and durability. The best MPWs are also ergonomic. Choose a model with large, stable work surfaces and adjustable shelves. Casters should roll smoothly and quietly, yet should be lockable for stability and safety.

The more your workstation can do, the more your business can accomplish, so select a versatile MPW. Check the weight capacity of individual shelves and the overall unit. For maneuverability in narrow warehouse aisles, a small footprint is important.

The cart should be powerful enough to run various devices simultaneously. Look for one that can hold and power four devices for at least eight hours, and be recharged in five to eight hours.

The right mobile-powered workstations can energize your workforce, and improve accuracy and efficiency.