60 Seconds With: David Krebs, VDC Research

Modern Materials Handling sat down with David Krebs, Executive Vice President, Enterprise Mobility & Connected Devices, to talk about mobile technology and it's use in the warehouse environments

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David Krebs

Title: Executive vice president, Enterprise Mobility & Connected Devices

Location: Natick, Mass.

Experience: 17 years at VDC

Primary Focus: Enterprise and government mobility and AIDC

Modern: We’ve heard a lot about mobility, but it’s primarily been in the context of the consumer world, with tablets, smart phones and solutions like mobile banking. What does mobility mean in the supply chain world?

Krebs: Mobile technologies are integral to any supply chain operation today. With greater emphasis on workforce optimization, streamlining fulfillment and pressure to gain even greater visibility across today’s supply chains, organizations are relying on technologies such as mobile computing and communications to reach these goals.

Modern: Is mobility growing and if so, what’s driving the growth?

Krebs: According to a survey we recently fielded, the top three pressures driving investment in mobile solutions for supply chain operations include (1) customers demanding orders faster; (2) high cost of labor; and (3) reducing the cost of fulfillment errors. There are other factors as well, including the end of life in 2020 of the primary operating system running on the vast majority of devices and the growing requirement for mobile solutions that are more intuitive and easier to learn. Considering the large number of temporary or seasonal workers supporting supply chain operations, especially in the warehouse, it’s increasingly important.

Modern: Does the concept of mobility differ today from what ADC has always done, which is to collect or access data at the point where we’re going to work?

Krebs: Fundamentally, the role of the mobile computer in the supply chain as a tool to direct workflows and collect data remains at the core of its value proposition. From an ADC perspective, we are witnessing the shift from laser to image-based solutions, which was unheard of in the warehouse even a couple of years ago. Voice technology is becoming more pervasive as the cost of adoption continues to drop. Moreover, we are seeing a shift from highly application or workflow specific deployment of technology to more flexible solutions that can support a variety of workflows, opening the door for capabilities like task interleaving.

Modern: I understand you’ve just finished a report on wearables. As a starting point, what role, if any, are wearables playing today?

Krebs: In the warehouse/DC environment, we have primarily seen two distinct wearable form factors in use. One is the wrist-mounted computer that is typically used in conjunction with a ring scanner for applications such as high-speed sortation. The other would be the voice terminal, which combines a headset with a belt worn computer, primarily used in picking. Anytime you can free the worker from carrying a device (or frequently picking it up and putting it down) while still providing the real-time information delivered by mobile solutions, the efficiencies realized in terms of productivity and accuracy are very real. As the technology matures and becomes more user friendly and affordable, we expect adoption and penetration into operations beyond sortation and picking to scale accordingly. According to a recent survey, approximately one in four respondents were currently using wearable solutions within their supply chain operations with another 38% evaluating/planning to deploy solutions in the near term.

Modern: If that’s where we are today, where do you see wearables going in the future? What will they bring to the table that we don’t get from existing technologies?

Krebs: Most of the attention directed toward wearable solutions today is around smart glasses, heads up displays and the use of augmented reality overlays to present information in the worker’s field of view. While we have seen some very cool demos of early versions of these solutions, they remain a work in progress. Key issues range from cost of adoption to technical issues (battery life, for example) to ergonomic and worker safety issues. This will take some time to sort out, but we clearly do see a future with even greater adoption of wearable solutions among supply chain workers.


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