Friday, July 7, 2017

Wi-Fi and Order Fulfillment is there a “Connection?”

The ability to use Wi-Fi has almost become expected no matter where we go in our daily lives. Whether we’re at home browsing our favorite sites, at a restaurant, or at work, staying connected is something most of us have grown fairly accustomed to. 

During our personal time, we aren’t exactly losing loads of money if we can’t hop on a Wi-Fi network (outside of the cellular data overages), but in an environment which operates 24x7, every second counts. This means 100% connectivity is necessary when using technologies which require Wi-Fi, such as mobile scanners, mobile picking systems (i.e. Pickcarts), and RFID tagging to name a few. 

However, staying connected inside a warehouse or distribution center is not that easy. All of the technologies mentioned are reliant on being able to stay connected as they move throughout the facility, this is known as “Roaming.”

Roaming occurs when the further you travel away from one Wi-Fi access point and closer you get to another; your connection is handed off to the one with better signal and all of this should happen seamlessly in the background. The scenario where roaming does not happen seamlessly is one that many facilities experience, but not for all of the same reasons.

There are many factors that come into play when implementing a wireless solution with no “dead zones,” and I’ve seen a lot of issues first hand which could have been avoided had the right information been available to the right individuals. A lot of times it’s just not public knowledge that a network plays a huge part in the performance of order picking technology in regards to its speed and accuracy.

Before implementing a mobile picking solution, a thorough IT infrastructure audit should be considered to assure the facility’s technology will yield the maximum performance the picking solution can produce. Typically, these audits include more than just Wi-Fi, but I will discuss the other pieces at a later date. Also, you can find a short Q & A at the end of this blog which may help when deciding on an implementation strategy for order fulfillment or Wi-Fi solutions.

While writing this, I did quite an extensive amount of research to find other material referencing the IT infrastructure and how it can affect order fulfillment technologies in order to compare the findings of other professionals with the findings that my own personal experience concluded. There was minimal to no information on this specific topic and what was available was quite old and possibly no longer relevant due to the rapid rate of change in technology. After realizing the true lack of information surrounding this topic, I feel even more obligated as a professional and as part of a forward thinking business that provides consultancy as well as flexible and smart order fulfillment solutions to make sure there is current, accurate, helpful information available to help those in need of direction. More to follow.

When reviewing your current wireless set up (assuming you have one), you can perform a self-assessment that may save some time for all parties just by answering the following questions which include a description of why these questions are pertinent:

1. Q: Are there places within the production area where signal quality is poor or there is no connectivity

A: This is important for having constant connection allowing pickers to roam, remain accurate, and profitable.

2Q: What kind of devices are using the wireless? (i.e. phones, tablets, laptops, scanners, etc.)

A: It’s important to note the types of devices; tablets, smartphones, and scanners are low power devices, which in turn means that the distance of their wireless range is limited giving a higher chance of connection loss.

3. Q: Roughly how many devices are connecting to the Wi-Fi?

A: Each wireless access point can only handle a certain number of connections before it starts dropping devices. In short, it’s like a highway, when too many cars are on the road there is no movement, and eventually no more cars can get on.

4. Q: Do you have very high racks, or other tall stacked material that could obstruct the signal path to your devices?

A: There are different types of antennae for different environments, in a building with high metal racks it’s preferred to have an antenna that is external and in some cases mounted to the highest point of a Pickcart or fork truck. This allows for better connectivity, but the need depends on your environment.

5. Q: Is coverage necessary in outdoor areas or loading docks?

A: If you have any need for tracking product when it has been loaded to be shipped, this will affect placement of your Wi-Fi. If you do not provide this information when planning for wireless implementation you may end up with no connectivity in these areas.

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