Hardware and software vendors alike are developing solutions to appeal to the mobile workforce. For instance, last month Infor debuted an enhanced version of its Supply Chain Execution—SCE 10.2. According to the company, “SCE 10.2 features an innovative iPad app called Warehouse Director, which provides managers with a real time view of warehousing activities from a simple and easy to use mobile platform. The app contains a color-coded metrics panel to better visualize management of incoming and outgoing workloads.” In addition, “The location panel is equipped with inventory heat maps and zoom-able overviews of the warehouse floor,” allowing users to keep tabs of critical functions while affording them the flexibility to work from a remote location.
Meanwhile, HighJump Software continues to add more apps to its HighJump App Station, which the company launched two years ago. Currently, the company offers over 50 apps that customers can browse and add to their warehouse management system (WMS) anytime. The App Station remains very popular with customers, says Chuck Fuerst, director of product strategy, “especially the safety equipment audit app,” he told Food Logistics during a brief stop at HighJump’s booth at ProMat 2013.
Honeywell continues to make improvements to its product offerings, too. The company recently rolled out the Thor VM2, its tenth generation vehicle-mount computer (VMC) targeted at the mobile workforce. A company press release states that the newly designed unit features a field-replaceable front panel, which “integrates the two most damage-prone device components—the keyboard and touchscreen—into a user-replaceable part. As a result, users can repair the most common forms of vehicle-mount computer malfunctions on the go, reducing maintenance cost and spare parts capital cost.”
Workforce and sustainability considerations
Labor is an essential component in the warehouse. No matter how automated the operations, there will always be a human element, and this is particularly true in the food and beverage sector. However, labor is costly when it comes to wages, training, injuries and low productivity.
Schaefer Systems International recognizes its customers’ desire to reduce labor costs while simultaneously minimizing a facility’s footprint. Furthermore, the days of “throwing labor” at a problem are over, at least in industrialized nations. And warehouse operators share the same difficulty as trucking companies when it comes to attracting new entrants to the workforce, i.e. existing workers are getting older and new ones are seeking employment in other areas.
One of the solutions that Schaefer recently unveiled is its patented Goods-to-Person workstation under the brand-name ergonomics@work!, which promises up to 70 percent higher picking efficiency and over 1,000 picks per hour. The spherical design increases picking frequency and gives the operator a better overview.
“Ergonomics is certainly more than just going easy on joints and muscles,” points out Dr. Max Winkler in a recent Schaefer blog. “It is also about logic, easy to follow work steps and stress-free processes. In relation to a distribution center, this means, for example, optimizing search and orientation tasks.” He remarks that ergonomics not only contributes to a worker’s well being, but also brings measurable and distinct advantages in productivity.
Meanwhile, maintaining a modest footprint is one of the goals Witron will adhere to for a new project it will undertake for Coop, the second-largest food retailer in Norway. The retailer plans to build a new distribution center with multiple temperature zones near the capital city of Oslo. Coop’s executives were impressed with Witron’s design plans regarding cost efficiency, energy efficiency, ergonomics and flexibility—all of which are extremely important in high-priced labor and real estate markets found throughout many European countries.
Sustainability and energy efficiency were also key consideration for Europe’s Oberalp Group, a manufacturer of alpine sporting goods, which tapped TGW Systems to automate a new logistics center in Bolzano, Italy. Conveyor equipment fitted with energy efficient drives and stacker cranes that boast “energy recuperation” features helped TGW meet Oberalp’s “highly developed sense for sustainability,” says TGW’s IT project manager, Albert Fischlmayr.