Warehouses Operating Without A Wire

Wireless technology is converging to make warehouses more productive.


"Anyone in the office area can tell you that you have such-and-such product in such- and-such a rack. That way, if someone has to pick it two hours later, they knows exactly where to go for it," says Steiner.

Thanks to the wireless network, the company's warehouse workers are now freed up. They're able to roam the warehouse from one end to the other with their handhelds, invisibly connected to an application that allows them to move inventory around virtually as well as physically.

"If a facility has a WMS but doesn't have a wireless system, it's just writing information down on paper," notes Motorola's Maris. "Workers doing receiving are writing information on paper and keying it into the computer later on, or giving it to a data entry person to do. Meanwhile, if they've made a mistake in receiving it goes undetected."

Maris says this inaccuracy could be compounded in put away, in the case of a forklift driver who is putting inventory away in a storage rack based on where he thinks it should go, without knowing for sure it was put away correctly because it wasn't scanned and the system never had the opportunity to prompt the operator where to place the product. Working in a non-wireless warehouse makes inventory counting impractical as well.

"If you're operating in a non-wired warehouse and you're counting inventory, the possibility exists that you can go to an inventory slot and find that the inventory you're looking for isn't even there. You have no idea where it is," says Retalix's Morgenroth. "This is because a forklift driver has already obtained it from the pick slot, only you aren't aware of that fact, because you don't have a system that is constantly being updated in real time."

He says the real time aspect of operating in a wireless warehouse gives workers the ability to allocate and locate products much quicker. "The bottom line is, until it's received into the system that product is not saleable."

"Without the capability that our wireless network provides, our warehouse people would be running back-and-forth between computers all day. It would be an impossible situation," says Dale and Thomas' Steiner.

Many Voices, One Technology

In the wireless warehouse, different tools are beginning to work together to provide more comprehensive, more intelligent workflows. In particular, voice technology, which still plays a major role in directing workers where to go and what to pick, will become an even more valued component in the process as technologies move toward an inevitable convergence.

"Where the market is going for the wireless warehouse is that we're waiting for the device manufacturers to supply us with multimodal devices that can do multiple tasks. Now though, there's nothing available that will allow you to translate the data from both voice and an RF type signal," notes Retalix's Morgenroth.

"Right now, we have companies that use scanning in conjunction with our voice technology," explains Scott Yetter, CEO and president of Voxware, Hamilton, NJ, a company that provides voice-based warehousing solutions. "Our software application provides a dialog with the worker and data is an important part of that dialog. Scanning is one of those ways to get data into the application."

SAE, Houston, TX, provides warehouse productivity technology solutions for warehousing professionals. "Our selector pro product--which is the Motorola WT4090--is a wearable, hands-free scanner that also utilizes voice," says Greg Braun, senior associate at SAE.

The unit uses voice to wirelessly direct the selector to a particular slot. The selector will then use the scanner to scan the outer case code. The information is sent wirelessly to the WMS and there's immediate validation as to whether or not the selector has picked the right item. The unit is also text-based, so the information provided by the WMS is shown on the unit's display screen.

Vocollect, the Pittsburgh, PA-based provider of voice-directed work applications is currently at work on a combined voice/RFID solution.

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