Beyond its devastating health impacts, the COVID-19 pandemic’s social effects — including social distancing and stay-at-home orders — have thrown a wrench into millions of people’s daily lives.
It has also accelerated consumers’ transition to shopping online rather than in person. Consumers forced to stay at home or limit their in-store purchases to essential items rapidly increased their adoption of e-commerce, ordering a plethora of goods online for home delivery. It’s a trend that isn’t likely to reverse once the pandemic subsides and we emerge into whatever the “new normal” will be.
How warehouse operations weather COVID-19
Retailers and their warehousing and fulfillment operations are caught in the crosshairs of this dramatic shift, as are the technologies, labor and work site procedures for stocking goods, managing inventories and fulfilling orders.
“Prior to e-commerce, warehouses for the most part dealt with products in bulk, building pallets and moving cases of goods to retail locations,” explains Ed Kennedy, founder and chief executive of Procensis, which for nearly six years has provided innovative enterprise mobility solutions combining the latest devices and collaboration tools for distribution centers. “The rise in e-commerce has changed that. Workers today are picking far more ‘eaches,’ or much smaller, individual orders, often one or two items to a box.”
The definitive guide to warehouse efficiency
The explosion in online ordering during the pandemic has accelerated that trend, says Kennedy. “It’s dramatically changed the layout of warehouse workflows, how pickers perform their tasks, and the devices and technologies which support them. Then you have to account for the virus, which has brought new challenges and responsibilities to keep workers safe.”
Maintaining high-velocity, high-turn e-commerce
Procensis has stepped up to the challenge, partnering with Samsung, ProGlove and Ivanti Wavelink to deliver a new bundled solution for warehouse picking operations and management. The solution combines technologies and devices uniquely suited for today’s high-velocity e-commerce environment — and supports the heightened health and safety needs of essential warehouse workers.
The units are integrated together through Ivanti Velocity software, which also provides the connecting interface through the wireless network to the warehouse management system (WMS).
Kennedy says the solution can be implemented remotely, putting the devices in workers’ hands — ready to use — in as little as five days.
The necessary volumes and fulfillment velocity of e-commerce orders demand devices that are wearable and durable and workflows that allow totally hands-free operations.
“Everyone wants hands-free wearable technology in the warehouse,” explains Kennedy. “It enables higher pick productivity and safety. The worker has both hands free for tasks such as climbing a ladder or operating a forklift.”
The ProGlove scanner, combined with the ProGlove Connect Proximity app running on the Samsung smartphone, can also help operations adhere to their new safety protocols, Kennedy adds. If an employee gets within approximately 6-ft. of another worker, they receive an alert reminding them to follow social distancing guidelines.
How it works
The Galaxy XCover Pro is mounted onto a cart or forklift. The ProGlove scanner, which also has a small display, is mounted on back of the worker’s hand through an ergonomic wrap with a thumb-operated trigger. The ProGlove device continually communicates with the Samsung smartphone via Bluetooth, receiving pick instructions displayed on the screen, transmitting pick completion when the trigger is engaged and then directing the worker to the next pick bin and item. The scanner unit is detachable and can be sanitized at the end of each shift.
The Ivanti Velocity software, powered by Wavelink, serves as the solution’s convergence point, as well as supporting overarching operations, providing a unified HTML user interface, worker feedback integration and device-side business process extensions, all without requiring WMS modification.
“The ProGlove displays on its screen the specific task at that moment,” says Kennedy. “The worker’s eyes are kept forward, both hands are free. It’s not too much different than wearing a watch.”
It’s a far superior tool, faster and safer than the old “brick on a stick” RF scanner and keyboard — which, Kennedy notes, requires the user to repeatedly pick up and put down the hand-held scanner and enter information on a small keypad.
Staying ahead of the wave
E-commerce volumes are only going to increase. As operators are dealing with COVID-19 health protection needs and a shortage of warehouse workers, keeping the workers they do have productive, efficient and safe is paramount. Today’s solutions demand fast installation, intuitive training, quick ramp-up and seamless operations. Collaborative bundles that combine proven, durable devices, enabling technology and process intelligence — like that provided by Procensis, Ivanti Wavelink, Samsung and ProGlove — will keep warehouses and their employees ahead of the e-commerce wave.