Over the years, manufacturers have reduced the size of bar code scanners to the point where they can now be mounted on a persons finger, eliminating the need to pick up and put down the scanner for each package to be handled or moved. This type of hands-free scanning product is giving some companies opportunities for significant productivity gains.
There are specific applications that benefit tremendously from hands-free bar code scanning. The first is the picking of inventory items for order fulfilment, where the goal is to pick, ship, and invoice customer orders as quickly as possible. In this application, the order filler typically picks items for a particular customer order from an arrangement of bins and places them into a box (or tote) with a paper copy of the order. The picker can either read the items on the order and pick the items from random locations, or can be directed by computer-generated lights (pick-to-light systems) or digital voice commands (pick-to-voice systems). Computer-generated picking instructions are more efficient because the order of items to be picked can be arranged according to location, known as wave picking, eliminating the retracing of steps back and forth to pick items in random locations.
At some point in the picking process, the bar coded part numbers of picked items must be entered (scanned) into a computer system for billing purposes. This is typically done at the end of the picking process by a separate person using a bar code scanner connected by cable to a computer workstation. This task can also be done by the picker as each item is picked, but having to use one hand to pick up, aim and trigger a bar code scanner leaves only one hand to perform the task. Equipping the picker with a wearable hands-free scanner connected wirelessly to the computer allows him to maintain his picking speed while easily scanning each item as it is picked, and eliminating the need for the second person in the process.
Durable, ergonomic, safe, wearable hands-free scanners can produce dramatic increases in worker productivity. Socket Communications Cordless Ring Scanner.
Another appropriate application for hands-free scanning is package sorting, where bar coded items must be quickly moved from one location to another. This application is typical in the sortation hubs of major postal and package carriers such as FedEx and UPS, where packages must be quickly loaded and unloaded on trucks. The bar coded tracking number on each carton must be scanned as it comes off of one truck and also when it goes on another. Packages usually require two hands to pick up, so having to use one hand to pick up and put down a bar code scanner for each package can seriously hamper a workers productivity. Merely pointing at each package to scan it with a hands-free scanner can increase worker productivity by as much as 30 per cent.
There are several extremely important requirements for any wearable hands-free scanning product. The first of these requirements is durability. When finger-mounted bar code scanners were first used by UPS several years ago, workers destroyed the first 20 pre-production units in only five days! Any wearable hands-free scanner must be designed to withstand an extremely abusive work environment in order to provide the expected ROI and not be a maintenance nightmare. The cordless ring scanner recently released by Socket Communications is constructed of a revolutionary new material called LiquidMetal which is more than twice as strong as titanium.
Another requirement is ergonomics. Any device mounted on a workers hand or finger must be as small as possible, yet easy and comfortable to activate and use, especially by both right-handed and left-handed workers. A hands-free scanner that does not meet this requirement will likely fail to achieve the desired results and may even be rejected by workers who find them clumsy and awkward to use.
The final important requirement is safety. In case a device mounted on a workers hand or finger gets firmly stuck on an obstacle, it must be designed to break away before the worker is injured. In addition, the emergency release function must be easily reversed so the worker doesnt waste valuable time putting together a complicated mechanism. The mounting strap on the Socket Cordless Ring Scanner is designed to release at a lateral or vertical force of 20 lbs (9 kg).
Wearable hands-free scanners can produce dramatic increases in worker productivity for some applications, but these devices must meet the requirements of durability, ergonomic comfort and safety to do so.
Socket Communications, Inc., is an innovative company that develops and distributes a broad range of data collection and network connectivity products for mobile devices.