Many Changes are Here to Stay
If there is one thing that last two months have demonstrated, it is both the resilience that has sustained many supply chains during an unprecedented health and economic crisis, AND the reality that we will never be going back to doing things the same way again. Industries that were deemed “essential” like food distribution, healthcare and other logistics-heavy operations have in many cases had to deal with unprecedented velocity and strain on capacities, all while trying to prevent losing capacity to illness and fatigue.Many changes have been made on the fly in the last two months, specifically around solutions that help improve the safety for workers by reducing the chances of having illness spread unseen. The mandate to make these changes might have initially been seen as a pure form of protecting your people “assets” contribution to productivity, but it has also grown beyond into creating a way to maintain morale, as workplaces that aren’t providing basic protections for workers are shedding them even if they are healthy – because they prefer to stay that way.
Just as in “normal” times, Amazon has been a frequent newsmaker during this crisis both for the outspoken concerns voiced by its workers and by its responses. One video posted in April that was indicative of what we see as part of the permanent changes to expect in the workplace gave an inkling of what some of those changes might be in relation to how to protect workers – temperature checks, PPE, distancing, etc.
How many of the changes seen in this video will remain after the crisis?
What we’ve learned over the last two months is that there are MANY solutions out there that can contribute to both the morale and personal health and safety of the workforce AND improve productivity at the same time – an approach we refer to as the “touchless warehouse”.
- Hands-Free Remote Device Management
One of the quickest and easiest way to reduce touches on warehouse equipment – and specifically your mobile devices – is to deploy a remote management solution that eliminates the need for your IT teams to handle them personally in order to update them, set permissions or adjust other settings. SOTI MobiControl is an ideal solution that serves the purpose of reducing the number of hands that come into contact with a single device while also improving productivity. Because a single user can manage ALL of your devices in any facility in any location remotely, it eliminates the cost and time involved with travel previously required, as well as the lag time that would occur by having to update devices manually when they could be accessed in person. Instead, devices can be updated simultaneously outside of working hours.
For a more in-depth look at SOTI MobiControl’s features and benefits, see our previous article “How Can I Update My Devices Without Touching Them?”
- Targeted RFID Applications
RFID is another established technology that can be deployed selectively and quickly to minimize touches in your operations. There are a number of applications that can be deployed to reduce direct touches with product and equipment.
Receiving – if you have suppliers who are already shipping to your specifications for products, packaging and cartons, having them apply RFID tags instead of bar codes and entire pallets can be scanned in at once as they land on the receiving dock and moved immediately to their storage location.
Inventory – Tracking consumables going through your warehouse or the equipment being dispatched and returned on a frequent basis can be far more efficient and greatly reduce touches using passive technology.
"Proximity Trace" from Triax provides a way to maintain workplace distancing and register contact tracing as well
Workplace Distancing – RFID can also be an innovative way to track workers to not only ensure they maintain safe distances in the workplace, but to trace contacts for those who are later found to have tested positive. This new solution from Triax provides an innovative way to leverage existing technologies in a preventive manner as well.
- Voice-Directed Work
Voice technology, like RFID, has developed to a point that it is easy, quick and reliable to deploy in a large variety of process scenarios with minimal training or disruption. Voice technology is a proven way to accelerate the move to a paperless environment, eliminating a major source of additional touches and a more frictionless process where labels may no longer be necessary, as well as the printers used for them.
For industries whose supply chains are currently stressed from the high velocity of traffic, voice technology can be extended specifically for speeding up the loading dock to move product out the door faster, and with less labor. In our own simulations using voice, loading was completed twice as fast as the standard method used because there were over 40% less touches of the pallets.
- The “Personal Mobile Workstation”
One less well-known solution that is taking on a new level of importance during this crisis is the Personal Mobile Workstation. Many large manufacturers and retailers have adopted these carts with their own power source. These specific carts from Newcastle Systems carry high-capacity Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries that can power your laptop, printer, scanner and more.
In addition to the productivity gains that come from deploying mobile workstations, using them as a “Personal Mobile Workstation” is a new strategy that minimizes shared touches on label printers and allows workers to bring their own workstations to their work without sharing equipment with others or coming in close proximity where Workplace Distancing is required.
- Updated Media (Label) Options
At first glance, there does not appear to be any way to innovate your way to fewer touches by changing up your labels or other media. However, there are a number of ways to reduce touches that have been on the market for a number of years, but may not have been looked at the same way prior to the crisis.
The Duplex Packing Slip is an innovation that consolidates the shipping label and the packing slip onto a single two-sided form, eliminating halving the number of items to print, meaning there are less paper items to handle, and steps in the shipping process are reduced by eliminating one additional piece of paperwork.
Other solutions, like the Zebra "Z-Slip Packing Slip", remove the multiple steps required as well as the envelope used to get a packing slip affixed to a package.
Depending on the industry you are in, labels that can be cleaned and still need to be readable may be a need as well. One approach to doing this is to use The suggestion is to use polyester labels with a full resin ribbon. This would create a label that can be cleaned or wiped down without affecting any barcodes or other data on the label. This is ideal for use on containers, tools or equipment that may need to be wiped down and disinfected regularly, though labels should be inspected over time to check if they need replacement or not after frequent cleaning.
- Clean Warehouse Best Practices
Finally, implementing a series of protocols and processes around keeping the warehouse clean and safe for workers is a key aspect of the “touchless warehouse” that goes hand-in-hand with other investments in new equipment and technologies. Creating a checklist for certain critical exposure events – like clocking in to work – is a good way to maintain confidence and morale in the workplace. The example of the check-in used at Amazon shown at the top is a good one. Checking temperatures, asking for symptoms, etc. and implementing a generous sick-leave policy to ensure sick workers don’t feel pressured to come in and potentially spread their illness to the rest of your workforce are smart ways to lead and manage through this crisis. Other things like storing devices in automated lockers not only keeps devices in the hands of a single employee, but also allows for tracing later if needed to know where that device has been and if any other users logged into it.
Disinfecting “boxes” for devices are coming onto the market now that go beyond their traditional anti-bacterial features to also neutralize viruses. But in place of electronic equipment, using solutions and wipes to regularly clean equipment while providing PPE where necessary will also meet the standards that will be necessary to keep your workforce safer at work.
If you're like most facilities managing through the crisis and the new way of doing things it has mandated, you may very well have implemented one or more of these changes already. But instead of waiting for mandates to come to your facility that you may or may not be prepared for, getting ahead of the curve by taking the initiative on changes that will result in long-term benefits both for the health and morale of your staff and your productivity will generate bigger long-term benefits.