Using Smart Devices for Barcode Scanning in the Warehouse

While doing ARC’s recently completed global warehouse management system market (WMS) study I talked to many suppliers of WMS solutions. Several suppliers report they are seeing the shift toward smart device barcode scanning among millennials.

Smart devices include device like an iPhone or an iPod. These scanners are most appealing to companies that have a large seasonal surge and have a need to bring temp workers – often millennials – up to speed quickly. It is significantly quicker to train young workers on a smart device than a traditional barcode scanner.

In other ways, the RF guns and smart devices are similar. Just like a RF gun, the smart phones are connected to a WIFI hub in the warehouse.

In addition to speed, cost is driving the transition. I did a little Internet searching. A rugged RF gun designed for the warehouse floor goes for about a $1,000. These are hardened devices that won’t break if you drop them.

Using an RF Gun to Confirm that it is the Right Location for a Pick

Or you can buy an iPhone with a camera and then download a barcode scanning app. Most apps you will find in iTunes and Google Play only focus on reading barcodes for checking product prices, but there are also apps robust enough to be used in the warehouse. The cost of an iPod plus the barcode scanning app is less than $200. A low-cost iPhone can be had for about $300. Then to harden the device, you can buy a sled to slide into for about $500. So, all in, the smart device route is about $700-$800, for savings of $200-$300.

Or companies can forego the sleds in the belief that is less expensive to just buy new smart devices than to pay to harden the devices.

A good scanner for the warehouse needs to scan very quickly; it needs to be able to read smudged and dirty barcodes; and it needs to be able to scan location tags on high racks. Will these smart devices measure up to traditional scanners in these ways? My sources say range is a problem; and while not quite as fast or forgiving, they are good enough for many picking situations. For a warehouse trying to get through the seasonal surge period, this can be a solution that makes sense.

Tablets, of course, can also be used on the warehouse floor. But they probably make more sense for managers or workers at receiving and pack stations.

From a WMS perspective, that means if you are looking for a new or upgraded WMS, mobility features may be something a prospective buyer wants to look for. Questions could include does the WMS support the different mobile operating systems – Android and iOS? Does the solution display instructions in a manner that appears natural to the device – tablet or smart phone? And are their role-based analytics specific to different tasks that can be displayed on these devices without looking crowded?

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