Increasing Mobility in the Supply Chain

Last month, Modern Materials Handling published a whitepaper titled, “How materials handling operations are using mobile technology to improve processes.” The publication interviewed 376 materials handling professionals – from company managers to distribution directors and plant engineers – in its study on mobile technology in the supply chain.

With our current economic climate, it’s no surprise that the survey results place an emphasis on reducing overhead and controlling expenses. Not surprisingly, respondents showed an increased commitment to mobile technology in supply chains.

According to the survey, 81% of respondents are already using or planning to evaluate mobile solutions in their operations. In fact, most of the responding organizations are planning to spend at least the same amount as last year, if not more, on mobile technologies. Furthermore, one-half of organizations consider wireless technologies, like RF scanners and GPS, to be essential in developing their supply chain operations.

So what’s the bottom line? According to the survey, mobile solutions are “key drivers in helping organizations achieve supply chain proficiency.” Increased accuracies, productivity and cost savings came through as clear benefits for the supply chain. Other benefits included improved customer service and savings on labor and resources.

But not all mobile computers are ideal for the supply chain market. There are a number of key issues that supply chain managers must consider when evaluating mobile technology for their operations. For instance, the functionality of the device, such as its battery life, weight, ergonomics, screen viewability (in direct sunlight) and operating system can have a direct impact on employee efficiency and support costs. In fact, the operating system is a significant consideration. Having a full Windows OS dramatically simplifies the process of integrating mobile technology with the corporate backend, resulting in substantial savings.

Another consideration is a device’s embedded features, like a barcode reader, RFID scanner, camera, wireless connectivity and GPS. All these technologies can improve communication as well as increase the accuracy and level of data that is available at any given time. Having these features integrated into a single unit eliminates the complications associated with having your workforce – and IT department – manage multiple devices.

Finally, durability plays an important role in reducing hardware failure and downtime from IT departments, and any associated costs. Mobile computers must be rugged enough to survive drops of up to six feet, dust, vibrations and extreme temperatures and weather. When purchasing a mobile computer, consider a device that is MIL-STD-810G certified and IP65 rated to ensure reliability in these harsh conditions. Also, ask manufacturers for audited failure rate data and look for devices that fail less than five percent of the time. If someone can’t, or won’t provide this information, it’s best you consider a different device.

Panasonic has a number of mobile computers that are optimized for the supply chain setting, including the Toughbook U1 rugged handheld computer, the fully-rugged Toughbook 19 convertible tablet and Toughbook H1 Field handheld tablet.