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Other Voices: Freedom for the warehouse

By Mark Wheeler
Director of Supply Chain Solutions, Motorola Solutions.
April 27, 2011

Editor’s Note: The following column by Mark Wheeler, director of Supply Chain Solutions for Motorola Solutions, is part of Modern’s new Other Voices column. The series, published on Wednesdays, will feature ideas, opinions and insights from end users, analystsrola.com, systems integraters and OEMs. Click on the link to learn about submitting a column for consideration.

It’s more important than ever for companies of all sizes to achieve very high levels of performance in supply chain management. In the warehouse, that means high inventory accuracy, customer order accuracy and real-time management of nearly every activity. With the operational requirements changing so quickly, technology solutions have to be flexible and cannot restrict the warehouse operations over time.

As companies strive for these higher levels of performance, hands-free technology has emerged as a key tool for making it all happen.  Hands-free, wearable technology allows the warehouse management system (WMS) to direct activities, confirm accurate completion, and collect information while allowing the warehouse worker to keep hands available to work. In this Ben E. Keith video case study, see some of the practical applications of this new technology. When it’s done right, hands-free technology can deliver double-digit gains in productivity and world-class accuracy. And that translates into better customer service and quick ROIs.

There are lots of innovative ways to use this technology.  In the past, however, the choice often came down to either a voice-enabled solution or a scan-enabled solution.  A customer who decided that voice was right for them had to design both their operational process and their application architecture around that decision and to stick with it for years to come.

But why should one aspect of the solution – how the operator interfaces with the technology – drive everything?  It shouldn’t, and it doesn’t have to anymore.  The devices and the software tools today allow for much more flexibility, both for the operator on the floor and for the technology.

Wearable solutions allow for operator instructions to be delivered with voice or on a wearable display or both, depending on the needs of that particular operation.  Similarly, the operator can confirm their work via speech recognition, or with scanning or with key entry – again depending on the specific workflow requirements.

There’s no need to make a technology decision today that will limit your operations in the future.  You can have the best of all worlds: high productivity, high accuracy, low-cost technology, and the flexibility you need to adapt to changing business and operational needs.

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About the Author

Bob Trebilcock, executive editor, has covered materials handling, technology and supply chain topics for Modern Materials Handling since 1984. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. Contact Bob Trebilcock.


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