Four Common Ways That Mobile Computers Improve Manufacturing Workflows

You need visibility into your operations from the production line to the loading dock. You also need accurate data in your inventory and order management systems. The right mobility solution can deliver both.

A manufacturing worker looks at his mobile computer while standing next to an auto assembly line.
by Your Edge Contributor
June 24, 2021

*This blog post was contributed by Wendy Stanley, Marketing Director, EDI, Manufacturing & Warehousing Software Solutions at the Radley Corporation. Radley is a registered Zebra Independent Software Vendor (ISV) and reseller.

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Mobile computing has greatly transformed the way companies conduct business. From wireless connectivity to powerful processing capabilities, small, handheld computing devices have improved daily workflows across a wide range of industries.

There’s no better example of mobile computers’ significant impact than in the manufacturing industry, where they empower workers from the shop floor to the back office. Handheld devices make it easier than ever before to identify, track, and analyze equipment, products, and business workflows. And the trend to replace bulky laptops, wired scanners, and paper-based workflows with rugged mobile technologies able to withstand high use and harsh environments is gaining significant traction. By giving employees the tools they need to work with greater speed and accuracy, manufacturers can enjoy improved supply chain efficiencies that deliver a strong competitive edge.

Here are four ways that mobile computers are commonly used to improve the manufacturing process:

1. Work-in-progress tracking

Accurately tracking the status of work in progress (WIP) is essential for any manufacturing operation. Without a clear inventory of where products and components stand throughout the production process, manufacturers aren’t able to thoroughly assess their manufacturing needs.

Mobile computers make it possible for manufacturers to integrate smart manufacturing capacities that boost WIP tracking. They also enable manufacturers to ensure every piece of the production process has full visibility and traceability. For example, mobile devices featuring barcode scanners or wireless radio frequency identification (RFID) tag readers can accurately account for the status of materials, items, and products found across the wide array of part bins and assembly lines.

2. Finished goods inventory

An up-to-date finished goods inventory count is essential to fulfilling customer orders. A lack of visibility into which products are ready to be placed on store shelves or sent into customers’ hands can saddle any manufacturing operation with costly delays.

A recent Zebra study shows that manufacturers will face a rise in omnichannel logistics demand by 2023. However, inventory accuracy lags behind where manufacturers need to be in order to handle what’s on the horizon.

Statistics about the inventory accuracy challenges in manufacturing, retail and T&L

Handheld scanners and other mobile devices can play a major role in tracking finished goods inventory. In concert with a standalone manufacturing execution system (MES) or integrated warehouse management system (WMS), enterprise-grade mobile computers can help workers keep track of any item’s status directly from the warehouse floor. And because handheld computers help streamline and automate data capture, it becomes easy to keep accurate tabs on finished goods.

3. Order picking

Inefficient order picking can pose a serious bottleneck in any manufacturing operation. Human errors made through unaccountable picking methods often create significant inventory problems, leading to wasted labor and additional manual work.

Incorporating mobile computers into a manufacturing setting can resolve order picking issues by requiring items to be scanned. Rather than allowing workers to simply take products away from where they’re stored, a handheld with a built-in barcode scanner can ensure each item is accounted for as it makes its way to the next destination.

In practice, this means more items get picked correctly, reducing inventory problems and the need to physically count items when issues inevitably arise. For manufacturers looking to grow their operations, mobile computers can also be deployed at scale to help all employees follow highly efficient workflows.

4. Shipping validation

Real-time visibility and tracking are just as important to customers, suppliers and other supply chain partners, as they are to a manufacturer. No matter the product, customers have come to expect the ability to see where and when a product was shipped, as well as its origin, at any point in the fulfillment process. And logistics partners, including suppliers, warehouse operators, shippers and distributors rely on these real-time insights to plan their operations, schedule labor and adjust resources when there are delays or spikes in demand. Of course, real-time visibility and tracking also helps everyone to anticipate and respond to potential supply chain disruptions, which helps increase agility.

Mobile computers also play a major role in accurately validating shipping. After scanning an item, a mobile computer can communicate with a wireless label printer to create a shipping label in a fully automated process. Scanning labels can also update backend inventory management systems for accurate inventory tracking and detailed analytics.

Gain Greater Visibility of Your Production Lines

From assembly to shipping, mobile computing devices allow manufacturers to maintain an accurate, real- time view of their production and warehousing operations. Radley’s full line of manufacturing, warehouse management, and barcoding solutions can help any manufacturer integrate mobile computers into workforces and workflows. To explore how mobile computers can streamline your manufacturing operations, contact a Radley product specialist today.

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Your Edge Contributor
Zebra will occasionally publish insights from members of our partner community, our customers and other subject matter experts across the global industries we serve on the Your Edge blog. Background information about each individual author can be found at the bottom of their contributed blog post.