Bluetooth Technology for Warehouse OperationsUse of Bluetooth in warehouse operations reduces energy & data costs
What is Bluetooth and How Does it Work?
Bluetooth provides a solution to the challenges of ensuring that devices can communicate seamlessly with each other in real time using a standard protocol and means of determining how much data can be transmitted at one time. Essentially is a radio-frequency standard that provides agreement on the protocol level, Bluetooth is loved by supply chain businesses because it is wireless, automatic, inexpensive and does not depend on an Internet connection for the connectivity between devices.
Wireless technologies have more than one standard for exchanging data. Bluetooth is a wireless technology standard that relates to the exchange of data over short distances. The Bluetooth wireless standard specifically refers to:
- Use of short-wavelength UHF radio waves in the 2.4 GHz ISM band, the same license free band used by IEE802.11/WiFi wireless LAN devices. Because the band is shared between Bluetooth and WiFi devices, sometimes interference occurs when radio devices are in close proximity.
- Classified by output power, Bluetooth devices with the lower class numbers have the greatest range
Note for warehouse operators: In warehouse environments which use a WiFi 802.11 wireless network or have many Bluetooth devices in operation, Class 1 Bluetooth devices can cause noticeable interference.
Bluetooth enables small area networking without the need for user intervention. Transmission power is very low to reduce battery power.
When Bluetooth-capable devices encounter each other, communication ensues automatically to determine whether each has data to share or whether one device needs to control the other. After the communication has occurred, a network is formed, known as a personal area network (PAN) or piconet.
As soon as the PAN is formed, device members of the network randomly hop frequencies in unison in order to remain connected and to avoid other networks that may be operating in the same proximity.
Bluetooth can connect up to 8 devices simultaneously within the established range. By relying on a technique known as spread-spectrum frequency hopping, Bluetooth is able to make sure that it rarely has more than one device transmitting on the same frequency at the same time.
Increased Popularity of Bluetooth Technology in the Warehouse Facility
Using Bluetooth devices in the warehouse environment has substantial advantages and can produce measurable cost savings. Here are some of the reasons why 3PLs and warehouse operators find Bluetooth useful and cost effective for daily operations in their facilities:
Increases communication speed
Because Bluetooth-enabled devices work on a device-to-device methodology, warehouse operators do not need to worry about disruptions to networks from natural disasters or other crises.
Less costly data
Although it probably seems free, accessing the Internet has a cost. Warehouse and 3PL operators need to budget for Internet access and data. Using Bluetooth technologies enables warehouses to reduce their need for Internet data to communicate information within their facilities.
Conservation of energy
Operations managers are always looking for ways to reduce the total costs of operating each warehouse facility. One cost effective way is to rely more on Bluetooth-enabled devices. As compared to Internet-powered devices, Bluetooth technologies need less power to operate and this translates directly into less costs for warehouses.
With the increased use of IoT devices in today’s warehouse facility, this can mean cost savings, faster circulation, analysis and utilization of data. Use of Bluetooth technologies has increased in order to provide data through a seamless integration with the existing systems used in the warehouse by logistics providers.
Using Bluetooth to Track Assets in the Warehouse and Distribution Center
A quick look at best practices in warehouse operations reveals more opportunity for using Bluetooth. Whether the warehouse or distribution center facility is producing or storing high value assets in large quantities or needs assistance tracking assets, the use of Bluetooth beacons can translate into major savings. Bluetooth Beacons can be used on a regular basis in large warehouses, loading docks, in parking lots and other areas with expanded warehouse space to help easily search and find items and aid in asset management. The Bluetooth Beacon technology enables users to see the status of items visually using a map-based CMS interface. Operations involving these items can be scheduled in order.
Use of low energy Bluetooth beacons in warehouse operating procedures can help track and locate assets within warehouse and manufacturing facilities and is especially useful in large warehouse operations. Fixed and Mobile Bluetooth Beacons can be placed on assets for identification and tracking. The Bluetooth Beacon transmits data in real time to the cloud CMS platform.
How Using Bluetooth-Enabled Mobile Printers Can Improve Warehouse Operations
Every inventory manager knows that accuracy in warehouse management and operations is crucial. Warehouse workers can supplement stationary barcode and RFID printing operations by using mobile printers to produce barcode labels that can be affixed at the point of application. By using mobile printers, errors can be reduced as well as the costs associated with correcting the errors. Proper labeling of warehouse inventory is critical for inventory control and for ensuring necessary inventory levels. This should be included in warehouse policies and procedures. Use of mobile printers can also be useful in dealing with labeling issues in inconvenient locations.
Enhances worker productivity
With the shortage of supply chain workers, it is critical to put workforce productivity practices in warehouse operations front and center. It often happens in warehouse design and space planning that warehouse workers have to travel considerable distance to reach stationary printers. There is a simple cost effective solution to this challenge for the warehouse staff. By using mobile printers in the warehouse facility, workers can reduce this distance, saving labor.
Improves receiving dock productivity
Managing warehouse operations effectively means paying attention to the details and finding the “little things” that end up costing the business time and money. Another way of optimizing warehouse operations is to take a critical look at inbound logistics and handling in the receiving dock.
Typically, warehouses print out batches of labels for incoming goods at a central location in the facility after receiving an Advance Shipping Notice (ASN). A warehouse worker walks to the location to retrieve the labels then returns to the receiving dock, time that could be spent in more useful ways. In cases where there are multiple batches of labels being retrieved, there is greater opportunity for errors by applying the incorrect labels to the shipment. The cost effective addition of mobile printers is a simple change to operating procedures can produce a measurable effect on the business, reducing total costs.
Forklift-mounted mobile printers can be used to produce barcode labels for goods so that they can be labeled immediately upon receipt. Fewer trips between cargo and stations translates into savings of time, labor and operational costs.
Enhanced picking productivity and efficiency
Using wireless mobile printers enables warehouse staff to pick multiple orders simultaneously within a small zone, optimizing warehouse operations. This reduces the amount of empty travel time and makes workers more productive. Workers use mobile printers to generate barcode or RFID labels for each item then scan in staging or packaging areas. This saves time and expedites item sorting for specific shipments.
Use of mobile printers also can benefit inbound logistics and putaway processes. Often warehouse putaway efforts are delayed due to the time it takes to the transit time to and from the centralized printer.
A Zebra Technologies study determined that processing time can be improved by as much as 62 percent when warehouse operations utilize mobile printers combined with mobile computers, wireless networks and shared databases. Using this strategy involves having warehouse workers enter information into a handheld computer which then transmits the data to the company ERP system via wireless LAN. After updating the system records, data is returned so that the barcode label can be produced and printer. Industry experts estimate that this may produce an approximate savings of 30 minutes per day per worker.
Here is another way putaway can be streamlined. Real time updates of forklift locations and transaction activity can be transmitted to the warehouse management system (WMS) so that workloads can be balanced and the most efficient routes determined.
This information and other instructions can be communicated to mobile computing devices in real time. Forklift drivers can then utilize mobile printers to print barcode or RFID labels that can be affixed to goods. Industry experts estimate that this may produce an approximate savings of 30 minutes per day per worker and help optimize inventory levels and warehouse space.
Helps provide clarity in quality assurance procedures
In preparation for quality inspection, warehouse workers can set aside goods and apply a tracking label tag which could be used as the work order that indicates the required tests that are needed. For quality assurance and quality control processes, inspectors can utilize mobile printers to generate labels that clearly identify the results to eliminate the incidence of misidentified items.
Streamlining crossdock operations in a warehouse facility
Mobile printing can save steps and time for warehouse dock workers on a regular basis. Using mobile computers and mobile printers, shipping and receiving workers can receive inbound shipments, log them into the warehouse management system then use the mobile printer to generate a barcode or RFID shipping label with the necessary crossdock information. By using mobile printers at the point of activity, the accuracy of the fast moving operation can be ensured and the crossdocking process streamlined. This aids in improving the speed and accuracy of crossdock operations and in enhancing the organization of loading docks and warehouse space.
Managing warehouse operations and inbound logistics today is challenging. Lead time is reduced, warehouse and inventory management issues are often more complex and the supply chain is changing. Factors from space requirements, the selection of real estate for warehouse location and workforce recruitment is changing to meet a faster paced fulfillment strategy for direct-to-consumer needs. The legacy supply chain is modernizing, using more technology to keep up with supply and demand and increased speed of warehouse operations.
Warehouse functions are being evaluated for improvement and technologies like new material handling equipment, Bluetooth technology and IoT devices are being used to increase accuracy, help with physical inventory counts, optimize shipping docks and storage space, improve warehouse safety and much more. Use of these technologies helps to drive down the total costs of warehouse operations and enable facilities to meet the needs of consumers.
The development and widespread use of Bluetooth technology in manufacturing, warehouse and distribution centers has made it more affordable and in common use in the supply chain today. Mobile computers, mobile printers and other Bluetooth-enabled devices help to boost productivity, optimize labor and warehouse inventory management and improve asset management efforts.
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