Increasing warehouse productivity through WiFi performance
In todays’ competitive warehouse market it’s all about productivity, the faster you can move product in and out of the warehouse typically the more products you can handle. Gone are the times when pickers would use pen and paper to record a pallet or product with advances in technology over the last 10 years now seeing pickers using hand held scanners, “voice to pick” and wearable technology to increase productivity. Have you seen Microsoft's HoloLens in use with WMS's yet?
What all these technologies have in common is their critical use of WiFi for communication and it is why ensuring that the WiFi is operational 24/7 is one of the easiest way to maintain high levels of throughout, productivity and ultimately profitability.
Consider this simple yet prime example: Warehouse A picks and ships 60,000 items per hour 24 hours a day, each of the 300 pickers must pick 200 items p/hr or nearly 4 per min (3.3). The warehouse charges a handing fee of £1 per item or £60,000 per hour for its picking, packing, shipping. The cost or loss of business should the WiFi be out of operation for one hour is easy to calculate, £60,000 but what is not so easy to see is how much is it costing for a poorly performing WiFi network that is slowing down your pickers 'Pick Rate' or worse not allowing them to improve their pick rate past your pick target and increase profitability overall. Should the pickers in this example be able to increase from 3.3 to 4 items per min they this would increase productivity by from 200 to 240 per hour and the warehouse overall could handle 72,000 an increase of 17,000 per hour!
So how can you prevent a drop in pick rate or even help to increase productivity, let's explore the most common issues:
I know this sounds like an obvious one but having too much or too little WiFi coverage can cause several issues. Too much signal or too many WiFi access points will cause channel interference, too little signal or not enough WiFi access points will lower performance and stop scanning altogether.
Pickers and their scanning devices must be able to roam wherever they need to scan meaning their devices must roam from one WiFi Access Point to another seamlessly or a delay in scanning will occur, slowing down their pick rate. This is even more important if you use a 'Voice to Pick' solution as not roaming efficiently will leave you connected to an old Wi-Fi access point in another area which will lower the voice quality making communication difficult to understand. Luckily the most recent improvements in Wi-Fi have been in the area of roaming, (802.11r and 802.11k)
Ensuring that your WiFi network design has an element of coverage redundancy is crucial, although equipment fail rates are relatively low they do happen and the cost of not picking can often outweigh the cost of a proper WiFi survey and design
WiFi Health Check
Get a WiFi health Check performed on your network once a year, a bit like an MOT, this will ensure that the points raised above are covered. Being proactive to ensuring your WiFi is working could be up to 10 times more cost effective than to being reactive to problems.
Ensure that you get the right WiFi design to start with and that it stay's current with any changes you make in layout. Engage with a supplier that specialises in designing WiFi in warehouse environment and that they can prove that they have experience in this. Designing a WiFi network in warehouse with moving forklifts, high racks and constantly changing stock levels is worlds apart from designing WiFi for an office or school. Your supplier should provide WiFi coverage heat-maps of your warehouse, test for interference using a spectrum analyser and provide you with a professional document detailing where the Wi-Fi Access Points are going to be installed. If you change the layout of your warehouse over time you should re-address this design to protect productivity.
Ensuring that your pick rate and productivity stay high through best practise WiFi design is critical in today's competitive warehousing market. Being at the forefront of warehousing picking technologies will differentiate you from your competition and allow you stay one step ahead, with properly designed WiFi being the foundation blocks.
If you would like a review or health check of your current WiFi network then please get in contact.. You never know you might just improve productivity!!