Equipment 101: Data capture basics

Data capture technology can help an operation see its products in real time and take proactive steps to keep materials moving smoothly through the supply chain. Here’s a look at several basic data capture technologies.
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Voice technology is often applied to labor-intensive activities, like piece picking, putaway, replenishment and cycle counting.

By Lorie King Rogers, Associate Editor
October 01, 2011 - MMH Editorial

At every point in the supply chain—from receiving raw materials in a manufacturing facility to delivering the finished product to the retail shelves—the more information you have about your product and the process, the better. That’s why data capture technology is a key component to an operation’s success.

A number of technologies are included in the data capture market. Mobile computing, RFID, voice technology, and bar codes and bar code scanning are the solutions most often employed to capture, share and manage data. 

Having real-time, accurate data enables today’s warehouses, distribution centers and manufacturing plants to keep pace with the constant, continued pressures to increase efficiencies.

While data capture systems once worked independently, today’s technology works together. This equipment report will take a look at:

MOBILE COMPUTING
Workstation computers are ideal for sharing instructions with operators who remain in one place during a shift, but that’s an unlikely scenario inside the four walls of most facilties. In these environments, workers and products are in constant motion.

“Product is not staying still, even though a warehouse seems static,” says Bruce Stubbs, Intermec’s director of industry marketing for warehouses. “Product is constantly moving and going through the supply chain.”

Mobile computers that communicate wirelessly with a host computer over a facility’s Wi-Fi network enable operators, order pickers and other personnel to receive work instructions and capture information in real time wherever they are. In addition to receiving communications, workers can key data into a mobile computing device.

Mobile computing is the foundation of any automated data capture solution, regardless of whether the systems scans bar codes, reads RFID tags or uses voice technology to communicate.

There are two main types of mobile computing devices:

  • Vehicle-mounted computers are designed to work with lift trucks and walkies. A vehicle-mounted computer will usually have a bar code scanner tethered to it. Both devices communicate wirelessly to the network. Not only does this provide real-time data and capability, it creates efficiency. “Workers don’t have to get off and on the truck to count or handle cases,” explains Stubbs. This saves time and gives an operation the best of both worlds. In addition, Stubbs says, “Vehicle-mounted computers can be run off the power source of the forklift, so you don’t have to worry about a battery.”

Today’s vehicle-mounted computers provide workers with better technology like enhanced graphics and large screens. “Some now have touch pads, the resolution is much better, and the ergonomics of the key pads are better, too,” says Stubbs.

 

  • Ruggedized handheld devices are available in a variety of form factors, depending on the job. Order pickers carry an integrated handheld device that includes a scanning engine for bar codes or a reader for RFID tags. Supervisors who are not scanning as often as an order selector may carry mobile computers that are similar to a PDA.

Today’s mobile computers are nearly as powerful as a desktop, and the graphics have improved over time. These machines are able to run the applications you need on an Intel-based platform running an open system like Windows.

“These mobile computers are really the driving force behind productivity and accuracy in a facility,” says Stubbs. “These are the devices needed to be successful and competitive.”



About the Author

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Lorie King Rogers
Associate Editor

Lorie King Rogers, associate editor, joined Modern in 2009 after working as a freelance writer for the Casebook issue and show daily at tradeshows. A graduate of Emerson College, she has also worked as an editor on Stock Car Racing Magazine.


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