Think outside the box when investing in technology in your warehouse

When you invest in a WMS you also need hardware, for example rugged tablets, often with Microsoft Windows as OS. The developer/supplier of WMS often have solution-approved hardware that they suggest you buy from them or partners to ensure operational safety, etc.

The problem is that industrially adapted tablets and PC’s are extremely expensive. Most often you get very little performance for the money. This is something that disturbed me a long time. Prices of ordinary tablet PC’s been squeezed for a long time now while performance has increased significantly. However, when it comes to industrial tablets, it is almost the opposite, despite the fact that it is cheap technology inside, often with poor performance.

Two years ago, it was time to invest in new hardware because the old was becoming obsolete. I looked at the hardware that was solution-approved by the WMS provider and compared it against a conventional Microsoft Surface Pro 4. Surface Pro 4 had five times better performance but was five times cheaper than the rugged tablet. I decided to do an experiment and bought a Surface Pro tablet to test in warehouse environment on a forklift.

A modern tablet like Surface Pro have ssd disk and not many moving parts, I combined the tablet with “ram mount”, it is a mount that absorbs shocks on the forklift and that made it perfect. To be on the safe side, I also bought a shockproof protective shell and a protection for the display.

The experiment was a success! There was a quite shocking difference in performance, the Wi-Fi was excellent and the CPU power was great. Another advantage, it was easy to change the tablet if one needs to be repaired. It was only to shift a USB port and a magnetic charge port. Considering what a Surface Pro costs you can have a couple pre-configured in reserve.

What you must keep in mind is what environment you work in. It can not be too dusty and no moisture and not to cold. It is important to have regular cleaning routines where you vacuum the ventilation holes in the tablet.

I have used Surface Pro tablets in the warehouse production for two years and they are still working without a problem. In addition, the price for one Surface Pro compared to a professional rugged tablet makes it ok if lifespan is not as long.

Rugged tablets have an important role in the future too, especially in more demanding environments as in cold storage or outdoor environments but know the high costs makes it difficult to argue for an expensive rugged tablet in an ordinary warehouse environment. Rapid technological development means that they quickly become outdated. It’s not the quality that forces you to invest in new computers it is the low performance.

I can assure you the WMS providers has many great arguments for you to buy their or their partners equipment; there is a lot of money in the industry. However, for us it was a success to try alternative solutions. The money you save, you can invest in other efficiency-enhancing or quality-enhancing projects. I know at least a couple of warehouses that was inspired of us and made the same decision and it become a success.

I don’t say this is an option for every warehouse, if you have a lack of know-how and don’t have the resources in IT department I think it is a better option to choose the solution approved choices. But maybe I have inspired someone to think outside the box and use disruptive innovation…


Roberth Karlsson

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