This May Be the Most Overlooked Source of Safety and Security in Your Warehouse

And No, It’s Not Your Workers’ Smartphones

An access card is scanned to gain entry to a secure section of a warehouse.
by Mike Millman
August 23, 2019

When you think about potential warehouse safety and security risks, here’s what a top ten list would look like:

  1. Improper lifting of heavy items
  2. Heavy items improperly stored overhead
  3. Accidents involving heavy equipment or production line equipment
  4. Potential exposure to hazardous materials due to improper storage or handling
  5. Insufficient training on safety and security
  6. Inventory theft
  7. Workers’ use of unsecured personal technology to access business systems and sensitive info
  8. Issuing workers handheld devices not suitable for use in all warehouse environments
  9. Access of business systems by unauthorized parties
  10. Workers or unauthorized people accessing restricted or unsafe areas

And when you name the potential countermeasures you could implement to mitigate these risks, the top recommendations may include these:

  1. Define and enforce strict material handling procedures
  2. Define and enforce strict equipment operation and maintenance guidelines
  3. Create a detailed safety plan and enforce key requirements such as scheduled breaks, etc.
  4. Conduct safety training for all new employees and for all employees when procedures change
  5. Only allow the use of enterprise mobile devices within your operating environment
  6. Only use mobile devices certified safe to use in hazardous locations and harsh environments
  7. Limit or completely restrict personal technology use within the warehouse or the loading dock
  8. Require workers to use company-issued devices to complete maintenance and safety checklists
  9. Instruct workers to use company-issued devices to communicate, collaborate and call for help
  10. Invest in enterprise-grade IT security tools to lockdown business systems and devices
  11. Implement active locationing technologies to increase visibility into equipment traffic patterns
  12. Implement ID badges that can serve as electronic timecards and ensure authorized access

If you’re responsible for manufacturing, storing or distributing time- or temperature-sensitive items such as food, beverages, vaccines or pharmaceuticals, then you may also utilize sensor-based, Internet of Things (IoT) and blockchain technologies to help monitor product quality and ensure compliance with safety requirements as such inventory moves through the supply chain.

In other words, there are numerous technologies that can help to improve safety and security within the warehouse.

However, one technology that can be overlooked as a safety and security tool is your printer. Well, two printers specifically: your card printer and label printer.

Smart Cards (and Card Printers) Help to Improve Worker Safety and Data Security

Controlling access to your facility is the first step to keeping workers and data physically safe. In fact, we’re seeing more and more warehouses transition to smart card-style access cards, similar to what you may see at a secure government facility – and for good reason.

Dozens, if not hundreds or thousands, of people are coming in and out of your warehouse all day long: shift workers, seasonal workers, transporters, inspectors, customers, supply chain partners and many others. It’s not reasonable to expect a gate guard to recognize every face, and not every warehouse has security officers and video cameras at all entry points or covering every square inch of its facility. On top of that, you may have restricted access areas within your four walls that require additional security clearances, such as areas where expensive equipment, goods, tools or hazardous materials are stored.

Implementing a highly secure, card-based access control system can be very valuable in all these cases. However, the best way to prevent access by unauthorized parties is to produce highly secure access cards that sync with back-end security clearance systems and are difficult to reproduce. (Yes, even warehouses need to worry about fake IDs.)

That means that you need a very specific type of PVC or smart card technology and, more importantly, you need a very specific type of card printer.

Your printer has to be capable of producing smart cards featuring highly detailed images with rich colors, crisp barcodes and other smart security features that are critical to facilitating fast and accurate ID and access verification. The last thing you want is an ambiguous photo that could make it challenging to spot an impersonator with a stolen badge.

I recommend looking for an enterprise-grade card printer that may also be used to print cards for other purposes, such as forklift training verification, time clock systems and more. Beyond offering edge-to-edge printing customization options, these types of card printers feature several integrated encoding options, meaning you can print contact, contactless, proximity or magnetic stripe cards right out of the box. This gives you flexibility in the type of access control system you deploy, and it allows the card to become multi use.  

For example, the same card used to control physical access can be used to control access to desktop, laptop and mobile computing devices such as rugged tablets that connect to sensitive data systems.

For example, line supervisors may find it frustrating to have to log out and log back into their computers every time they’re called to the floor or the loading dock; it can be just as easy forget to log out. But leaving their computer unlocked for even a minute is risky. Anyone could jump on after them and gain immediate access to data. However, simply having to remove a smart card when they walk away and then slide it back into the card reader when they return to immediately log back on makes it more likely that they will take care to secure their computer and your data.

To summarize, the right card printer can help you:

  1. Keep unauthorized parties out of your facility, specifically those who could be potentially hostile (which helps improve worker safety) and potential thieves (which helps protect your assets)
  2. Know when authorized parties enter and exit your facility in case of an accident, theft or other occurrence in which further investigation is needed
  3. Lockdown your data by giving workers an easier way to secure devices when not in use

RFID Printers and Label Printers: The Secret “One-Two Punch” for Improved Warehouse Safety and Security

As I just explained, the card printer can be a triple threat technology – or triple threat preventer – for your warehouse! But, add on the right label printer (and right labeling technology) and you’ll also be able to:

  1. Better maintain quality control of time and temperature-sensitive products, which helps to improve product safety in the supply chain
  2. Track and trace inventory movements to identify and, ideally, mitigate potential losses
  3. Confirm whether a missing item is actually stolen or just misplaced and then aid with locating and recovering the item
  4. Improve worker compliance with supply chain safety standards related to proper materials handling, storage and transport of all items, including hazardous materials

Just know that not all label printers may be capable of producing the secure labels you need to secure your assets.

Look for enterprise-grade label printers capable of producing barcoded labels and/or labels with RFID tags depending on the type of asset your trying to track. You may also want to consider investing in a high-resolution micro-label printer, especially if you produce or store extremely small but highly valuable electronics such as circuit boards or chips. The proper labeling can deter theft of this type of inventory and provide track-and-trace assistance should they go missing. (This white paper goes into more details about the benefits of micro labeling.)

No matter what type of label you need to print, just ensure that both the label printer and labels themselves are designed to combat ink fading, tampering and even normal wear and tear through human and machine processing methods. The label needs to be readable at all times, whether by a barcode scanner, overhead RFID reader or a worker trying to determine if a shipment contains hazardous materials. It’s also hard to maintain a first-in-first-out rotation for perishable items if the date isn’t clearly printed on the plastic, cardboard, aluminum or glass packaging.

Take Note: What’s Inside Your Printer is Just as Important to Maintaining Data Security as Your Printer’s Output Capabilities

With all the hundreds or thousands of connected devices in your warehouse facility, security is an important topic. Locking down access to the printers connected to your enterprise systems should be on the list of “to dos.” That means the intelligence inside your printer is important to consider, much like you would evaluate the processor, security or operating system (OS) within a laptop, tablet or handheld mobile computer. Safeguarding your IT infrastructure with a printer OS that has security capabilities built in will help you sleep better at night. Encrypting all your printer connections, rotating credentials and remotely managing your systems to keep them current are among a few of the nine measures you can take to increase device and data security.

In this day of having a warehouse filled with Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)-connected technology, there are so many entry points for unauthorized access. It is important that each connection and data exchange is carefully controlled to ensure the information is protected and available to authorized users only.

The Takeaway?

Take a close, hard look at the card, RFID and label printers in your warehouse. Are they able to produce the type of cards and labels you need to improve your warehouse safety and security? Do they offer the IT security you need to keep out unauthorized access?  If not, you may want to upgrade your printers sooner than later.

You can learn more about the smart card, RFID and label printers – and related materials – that are preferred by warehouse operators here.

Or, contact us here to talk about your specific safety and security concerns. We’ll help you evaluate all technology options available to aid with safety and security, including printers, RFID, barcoding, locationing and mobiility solutions.

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We want to know!

Did you think of your printer as a “safety and security” tool before reading Mike’s blog?

Tell us in the Comments section below.

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Mike Millman
Mike Millman is the Senior Vice President of Zebra’s Specialty Printer Group. He is responsible for all hardware and software development in Zebra’s mobile, card, desktop, tabletop and kiosk product categories.

























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