Is the iPad barcode scanner combo a scan away from your warehouse?
Despite recent trends and examples of the iPad being used for industrial applications, it fills me with fear for our Clients to use an iPad in a warehouse environment with, “Consumer product unsuitable for industrial use”. But let's see if I am missing a trick.
For a start, the iPad barcode scanner combo is 2 separate devices as the iPad does not have a barcode scanner or RFID (radio frequency identification) capability. In my opinion automatic data capture capability is the first hurdle to overcome. This goes beyond simply plugging in a cabled barcode scanner. A data collection application is required to enable integration with other applications in real-time. Open database connectivity or calling an application programming interface would enable this.
Bluetooth connectivity can be used to link a barcode scanner to an iPad and with web-based applications, only the browser is needed to enable automatic data capture.
One case study I read this week was on a logistics company that had put an iPad in the hand of each of their warehouse operators. Their inventory management system was web-based; this enabled them access using a browser on the iPad. The expensive paper trail had been eliminated. Innovative, yes - but practically flawed. They had not equipped made the iPad barcode scanner combo so there was no capability to scan and this leaves the process open to manual data entry errors.
We love the iPad for those in the office, but it is simply not a practical device for performing functions like put-away, picking and stock-take within the warehouse environment. They are less suitable than what exists today for the following reasons:
1. There are no batteries to swap out between shifts – for the warehouse continuously powered devices are required. Batteries also degrade over 5 years which is what a typical rugged mobile device will last for.
2. Ruggedised mobile devices are dropped in testing from 6ft from 1000 times at all angles to ensure that they can endure a warehouse environment with a life span between 3-5 years.
3. The touch screen is the most expensive part of any device – well designed warehouse management and other software applications on handhelds are developed to use the big buttons on the keyboard to minimise the risk of breaking it. With the iPad this is not an option.
4. Behind the big mobile computer manufacturers sits dedicated service and repair infrastructures. Service level agreements and uptime guarantees are necessary when devices become critical to business operations. Think of being a Web shop and not being able to get orders out as you cannot pick due to the devices being broken. Not ideal.
At present it is difficult to foresee consumer tablet PCs replacing handheld mobile devices for everyday warehouse functions. The iPad has set the standards for a high speed and highly portable device so it will continue to be considered for industrial applications. Put in the hands of a warehouse operator the only outcome I can foresee is the one shown to the right. Shame, we love the device!