Smartphones Coming to the Warehouse, But Not Necessarily How You'd Expect

Meagan Douglas
Fri, Dec 1, 2017
Smartphones could soon play a larger role in warehouse settings.
Smartphones could soon play a larger role in warehouse settings.

If someone were to tell you that smartphones are playing a larger role in supply chain operations, you'd probably imagine them being used as barcode scanners. To some extent, this is true. A Parcel Industry report explained that smartphones are gaining some momentum in such use cases. However, the deeper implications of smartphones in the warehouse are subtler, but may be even more impactful.

With ruggedized barcode scanners still remaining relevant for mobile data collection and the internet of things gaining a larger role in warehouse operations, the real place for smartphone use in the supply chain may be in serving as a gateway to data, applications and similar technology services. Network World explained that the growing reliance on the IoT is leaving businesses looking for better tools to help users interact with sensors, monitoring devices and state-of-the-art device formats.

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As smartphones gain momentum, organizations must consider why adoption has been relatively slow in the warehouse and what use cases make sense for those and similar consumer-grade mobile devices.

Limitations of Smartphones in the Warehouse

Warehouses tend to be large rooms filled with towering, densely-packed shelves. Getting network penetration throughout facilities can be a nightmare. In many cases, specialized connectivity solutions, such as those offered in many dedicated mobile data collection systems, are necessary. Network capabilities and smartphone functionality have evolved somewhat, however, making the technology more responsive. At the same time, practical issues, such as the high likelihood of dropping and breaking a personal smartphone, has slowed the bring your own device movement's rise in the warehouse.

The big problem, however, is safety. If a worker has to look down at a screen, find the appropriate app, use the phone's display to line up the scanner with the barcode and then tap a button, users will be spending a lot of time looking down instead of paying attention to their surroundings. If a box gets knocked off a high shelf above them or a forklift drives a bit too close, that's a recipe for disaster. This is why dedicated data collection tools are still important; just point and press a button and you have a barcode scan. It's simple and safe.

With the logistical issues in mind, where smartphones are really gaining momentum is in the way they are being used to support a variety of operations and supporting technologies.

The IoT Highlights New Use Case for Consumer-grade Mobile Devices In the Supply Chain

"Smartphones could soon find a home in warehouses as they take on a supporting role for other technologies."

Network World explained that the ability to provide points of connection between a variety of devices and services is emerging as the key enabler for smartphone innovation in the warehouse. Whether this takes the form of using the smartphone to automatically gather data from nearby sensors and monitoring devices or using apps to feed data and similar resources to augmented reality, giving users a smartphone can be invaluable.

In these use cases, workers aren't left spending a lot of time looking down at their phone. Instead, the device serves as a wireless processing and app hosting hub that lets them interact with other systems more effectively. In the case of augmented reality, for example, the goggles allow for safe, hands-free interactions with various assets through built-in scanning tools or voice picking technology. For remote connectivity, a phone app can gather data from the field and synchronize with enterprise apps when users re-enter areas covered by the enterprise network.

Smartphones could soon find a home in warehouses as they take on a supporting role for other technologies, such as mobile data collection systems, IoT devices and emerging solutions such as augmented reality. RFgen has long been a leader in the mobile data collection space. A device-agnostic mobile application development platform, our software enables you to connect your ERP system to any Android, iOS or Windows mobile device allowing you to take full advantage of smartphones in the warehouse.

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