by Senior Consultant, Brian Skerry

Your distribution center is a necessary means of doing business. But it’s a means that comes at a cost. No matter how well you serve your customers, the profitability of distributing your goods comes down to some combination of cost per unit, volume throughput and accuracy. There are many ways that you can optimize your operations and increase that profitability. And today, in Part 1 of our “Upgrade Your DC” series, we want to focus on a few key things related to scanning. We’ll show you just how big of an opportunity you may have in your DC and what some of your options are for upgrading your DC in 2018.

What’s the Opportunity?

It’s obvious that pick labels, location barcodes and shipping labels are incorporated into many activities in the warehouse. But have you ever added up the amount of time spent in your processes related to simply scanning and tracking these? If you have, you’d see just how important it is for companies to invest in this area. When our team works to improve operations for our clients, we are constantly reminded of just how much time is spent both applying a label (from pallet IDs to shipping labels) and scanning that label for inventory tracking.

For example, let’s take a look at packing. One of our recent clients had a manual packing process and dealing with the invoice and shipping label combined for 20% of the total packing time. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Scan Invoice: 6.7%
  • Pack Invoice: 6.8%
  • Apply Shipping Label: 6.4%
  • Total: 19.9% of total process

Now, if you break that down by percentage of order processing time (bag orders only, excluding unit handling time), the results are even more noteworthy:

  • Scan Invoice: 14.6%
  • Pack Invoice: 14.9%
  • Apply Shipping Label: 14.0%
  • Total: 43.5% of bag order processing

Or maybe picking is an area that you could consider upgrading. Behind travel and the actual picking motion, completing pick scans (location ID, label and UPC… depending what is turned on at your DC) is typically the third highest percentage of time spent at each location.

The list can go on for receiving and other areas of order fulfillment, but the point is clear:

Scanning and label handling takes away time spent actually picking the customer’s order and shipping it out.

How Can You Upgrade Scanning In Your Facility?

As new technology disrupts and revolutionizes the landscape of consumer products and retail distribution, tools like handheld RF scanners are becoming increasingly outdated. Now, RF scanners can increase productivity and accuracy, but maybe not for reasons you’d expect. In regards to productivity, the mere fact that an associate knows their scans are being time stamped now, vs. paper picking, will lead to a productivity increase. But, carrying a large RF gun around, picking it up, placing it aside and trying to read the dull screen doesn’t necessarily take time out of the process. While these rugged “guns” have been proven valuable in areas that require long range scanning, other scanning options continue to evolve and the updates are worth considering. Let’s check out some of today’s devices that are starting to replace the RF scan gun.

Wearable & Mobile Technology

The days of picking up that bulky RF scanner are long gone! According to the MHI 2018 Annual Industry Report, 80% of executives think wearable & mobile technology will not only support ongoing improvements, but also create a competitive advantage for those who adopt early on.

Here are two wearable options that can improve productivity, plus one futuristic take on what may be coming down the road. Please keep in mind, though, that each of these upgrades need to be fully vetted by your team to understand the net impact they will have on the business

1. Wrist scanners

Primarily considered for picking and print & apply functions, wearable wrist scanners (such as the ones from Smart Gladiator) have been a more ergonomically friendly alternative to the RF gun. While serving the same purpose, the idea behind what has become known as “gladiators” is resolving the physical requirements of handling the RF gun. Some of the advantages include larger screens and longer battery life, but the main advantage is the effortless scanning and reduction in human motion per scan.

Still interested? Check out this testimonial video.

2. Voice Picking

Whereas wrist scanners somewhat create a “hands-free” approach, voice picking truly does. And on top of that, voice picking could also be considered “eyes free” because there is no longer a screen to continually glance at for information. Voice picking not only improves speed, but it also ensures accuracy since it is linked directly to your WMS, updating inventory as you move through each work assignment.

There is usually time and motion saved using voice picking, however it is worth noting that this system requires more concentration than any other option out there. Voice picking may not be suitable for high density pick areas because of this.

Still interested? Check out this testimonial video.

Future: Smart Glasses

While these aren’t necessarily proven to be cost effective or scalable at this point, the potential is undeniable. Smart glasses are hands-free and could be considered “eyes free” since the information is available on a screen that is always in your line of sight, no longer requiring you to glance or look for the information elsewhere.

Many of these glasses are modeled after the now defunct “Google Glass,” which at one point was used during a surgery. So the technology is there for this type of scanning and order processing. However, whether this becomes a scalable solution is yet to be determined. There is not a clear return on investment yet for this technology, and there is still progress to be made in system integration and battery life before it can be completely reliable. To learn more about this option, you can check out Samsung Vision Picking and Connect Smart Glasses.

How much time do you spend scanning and labeling? We think it’s worth a look and should be a priority option for upgrading your DC in 2018.

Check back in two weeks for Part 2 of the “Upgrade Your DC” series to get our take on slotting and racking. We’ll be covering the three things you need to know about them in order to continue upgrading and optimizing your DC.