60 Seconds with David Krebs, VDC Research

Modern Materials Handling's staff sat down for a short interview to discuss how technology is enabling a more connected and engaged workforce.

By ·

David Krebs ,VDC Research


Executive vice president of enterprise mobility, connected devices and AutoID


Framingham, Mass.


20 years at VDC

Primary Focus

Researching how technology is enabling a more connected and engaged workforce.

Modern: This may seem like a question we’ve asked in the past, but we continue to hear a lot about mobility in our personal and professional lives. What does mobility mean in the supply chain world?

Krebs: Mobility is a conduit. The pressures we see in the supply chain haven’t changed, but they are getting more intense. We’re seeing greater pressure to provide traceability and visibility at the speed at which we can conduct business and fill orders. Mobility plays a central role in terms of orchestrating these complex supply chain actions.

Modern: Let’s talk about some of the trends we’re hearing about in this area, starting with wearables.

Krebs: Wearables, as you know, are not new when it comes to distribution centers and warehouses. Done right, they enable a hands-free experience. While we’re seeing greater degrees of automation and robotics, ensuring a productive labor force is still at the top of supply chain responsibilities. Wearables have been aligned with specific workflows, like high-speed picking using voice, and that’s still the case.

Modern: I recently saw a presentation on how a large parcel shipper is using heads up displays and visualization in one of their DCs. At ProMat last spring, there were a number of displays involving virtual or artificial reality. How is this space evolving?

Krebs: Voice and ring scanners are still the primary tools. The next leap is going to be visual artificial reality, but the technology is still relatively nascent. It is improving, but a lot of questions exist around hygiene, safety, ergonomics, battery life, ambient light conditions and how to use something on your head as a scanner. Based on where we’re sitting now, I think the technology is a good two to three years out.

Modern: Are there any benefits to visualization?

Krebs: What we’re seeing is a need to provide an order selector with a visualization of what they’re picking. That is coming into play. I have not seen any real benefit to optimizing the workflow. Where I have seen a benefit is getting new employees on board faster in a DC environment. Given the number of seasonal and part-time workers, that’s not an insignificant benefit. But once an associate is trained, I haven’t seen any results that say they’re more efficient.

Modern: In this issue of Modern, we write about Lodge Manufacturing, which is using iPhones on the warehouse floor. Are we seeing more Apple and Android devices in the DC?

Krebs: Right now, if you’re talking about the warehouse, Windows CE devices are still the predominate technology, and, even though the platform has been dead-ended by Microsoft, the demand for those devices is quite resilient. The attitude of most people in the warehouse is: It’s worked for me so far, so why change? We can talk until our heads fall off about the generational shift in the workforce, but it hasn’t moved the needle much. That being said, there are warehouse management system vendors who are designing their systems for iOS and Android and there is pressure to modernize these devices. And, now that Microsoft has confirmed that it is no longer investing in this space, Android is likely to be it in the future. I do see an eventual transition toward more visual and modern platforms, but it’s developing slower in supply chain than in other segments of the market, such as retail and field service.

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