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Tablets vs. RFID Guns: The Die is Cast

The single most important change in warehouses over the past two years:  Tablets.

Some RFID guns are becoming less expensive and less bulky as vendors try and compete with the tablet mobile solutions market. Too little, too late.

Standalone or networked PCs are gone, nowhere to be found in distribution center. IT functions in warehouses have been relegated to third party vendors to save money and utilize current, fast-changing, best-practice technology.

Tablets are running warehouse operations—receiving inventory, recording shipments, tracking stock movement, and material flow.

Not only are standalone PCs gone, but tablets are quickly replacing bulky and expensive RFID guns that were a standard fixture in most warehouses over the past decade. Tablets are the backbone for most e-commerce warehouse operations.

Much cheaper than traditional RF guns, tablets are familiar to most warehouse workers.  They are lighter, more ergonomic, and easier to use for laborers without loss of functionality.

Just like RF guns, tablets are vital during the receiving process when product bar codes are scanned to match the shipment to the purchase order and confirm that the item numbers and quantities reflected on the purchase orders correspond with actual shipments.

During the put away process, tablets effectively ensure the product bar codes are scanned and show the item code, description, and storage location for each item in a software-determined sequence that will minimize travel time during the put away process. Tablets ensure products are placed on the correct shelf, slot, bin, or rack position.  Better than RF guns, tablets accurately report the quantity and location each item being stored in the warehouse.

The benefits of tablet scanning for 3PL (third party logistics) applications improve accuracy and efficiency. With real-time inventory visibility, labors costs are reduced.  Reduction in paperwork reduces the amount of information needed to be keyed manually from paper documents by warehouse labor and/or administrative support staff. Elimination of re-keying data minimizes introduction of error and attributes much of the increased productivity and reduced labor expense.

Tablet mobile devices are more durable, and even more suitable to rough warehouse environments. Longer battery life also makes tablets more effecient, making the cost-justification of tablets (90-day ROI) versus RF guns (2+ year ROI).

Tablets are the platform by which add-on apps and Operating Systems (OS) are being developed in warehouse operating systems (WOS). With 90 percent of e-commerce operations, less than $100M in gross annual revenue, smaller individual apps are good for smaller operations. That said, most of these solutions have the capacity to integrate with both WMS (Warehouse Management Systems) and WCS (Warehouse Control Systems).

WOS developers have ensured that regardless of the WCS/WMS utilized, there is compatibility with these operating systems, seamlessly integrating scanning and inventory control.

These considerations of integration means that IT personnel, who rarely have a full-time function in the smaller e-commerce business model, are less involved in maintaining WMS and inventory systems. Strategic supply chain design, organization, and planning is a more valued skillset.

The familiarity of tablet use means less training. Most people, like the shop floor, labor know how to use a tablet, so do their children. This reduced training impacts the bottom-line, driving faster work productivity and throughput and fewer picking errors. The movement away from the RF gun is seamless, rapid, and meets with little worker resistance.

Despite the effort of RF Gun manufacturers to hold-on to market share by nitpicking and fault-finding of tablet devices, the fate of the RF Gun is set.  The tablet will be the industry standard.