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Zebra Evolves The MC9000 Enterprise Mobile Computer
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It’s 13 years since Zebra Technology launched its first MC9000 rugged enterprise mobile computer – the MC9050-G. Since then close to 2.5 million of the devices have been sold and it’s become the de facto standard for industrial mobile computing especially in warehousing, manufacturing and logistics. In this article Zebra’s Paul Reed, Regional Product Manager, Enterprise Mobile Computing, discusses why the MC9000’s combination of a low cost of ownership and superior design, construction, and manageability has seen it become a mainstay of enterprise mobile computing and looks forward to the latest iteration of the device.
Built for it's environment
Our human factors design team spends a lot of time working in warehouses observing operatives, the applications they use and the data they need to capture. This insight heavily influenced the design of the MC9000.
The device integrates powerful 1D, 2D or Direct Part Mark barcode scanners to allow users to quickly and easily capture any barcode label (including damaged, faint or otherwise compromised codes). The 2D Long Range Imager gives the user freedom to work more intuitively by capturing codes close up or as far as 12 metres away with the bright aiming dot making it easy to record codes on high shelves or when working with boxes and pallets. We extensively researched the ergonomics too carefully blending weight and balance so that the device could be comfortably operated for extended periods. And, to make sure it could be used in any area – from a dark corner of the warehouse to bright sunlight in the yard – it included a high contrast, high-brightness screen.
Battery life was an important consideration too. We ensured that this would last well beyond single shifts while also creating the industry’s first hot-swappable battery. When the user presses the release buttons the battery pops out half way which signals the device to shut the screen down while using reserve power to remain connected to the network and applications. When the battery is replaced the screen powers up and the user is ready to carry on working – without having to log back in to minimize workflow interruptions. As well as making sure we included all the features that users need to be as productive as possible, we were conscious of a key expectation in the warehouse: that technology investments should pay back over a number of years.
Built to last
One of the main ways that we ensured the MC9050-G, and the following iterations, deliver long-term service is through its robust build quality with many customers using their devices beyond the length of the anticipated deployment. Furthermore, we have maintained backwards compatibility with all accessories such as chargers, vehicle mounts, belt clips and holsters. This helps reduce deployment costs by enabling warehouses to easily add a new MC9200 into their device pool without making any changes to their IT environment. In addition, we’ve minimized changes to the device itself, which has undergone evolution rather than revolution. This strategy ensures that warehouse workers and temporary or seasonal staff, familiar with previous versions of the computer, will be able to use any new models without training.
Built through evolution
We have made some minor cosmetic changes to the MC9000 range. For instance, because it’s so well engineered, with a torque cell construction (to distribute shocks when dropped) we were able to reduce the size of the protruding rubber bumpers around the edge of the first products. But in the main, improvements concern the inner workings.
The launch model, the MC9050-G, had a 624 MHz processor and up to 128MB of RAM. As applications have advanced we’ve improved the processor with the latest MC9200 (premium model) offering a Dual core 1GHz OMAP 4 processor with 1GBRAM/2GB of flash memory – more than enough to run intuitive graphics-based applications and power multiple ERP apps running side-by-side. We also offer seven scan engines (e.g. standard range, HD scanner, omnidirectional imager and more) and while we initially offered three keyboards there are now six interchangeable options available. What’s more custom keyboards can be created to meet special application needs or, to match brand colours.
We’ve made the device more robust – the MC9200 can withstand up to 4,000 1 meter tumbles, while other improvements include accelerated Wi-Fi performance and expanded OS options. Customers can choose from Android KitKat 4.4.4 with MX Extensions, Microsoft Windows Embedded Compact 7.0 and Microsoft Windows Embedded Handheld 6.5.3. Also, customers with the latest MC9200 Premium model can swap between Windows and Android operating systems (the device needs to be returned to service) to provide the flexibility to change mobility strategies over time.
Built for the future
User demands continue to change and one of the major trends we’ve noticed is the need for more long range scanning – especially in the warehouse where shelves are getting higher. We have enhanced the MC9200 accordingly with a new scan engine. The SE4850 Extended Range Imager (ERI) is designed to capture any type of code, from as close as 7.6 cm to 12.4 m — a range that’s up to 60 percent closer and 35 percent farther than competitive imagers.
The gold standard enterprise mobile computer the MC9200 continues to be widely deployed across warehouses, retail distribution, logistics operations and manufacturing lines. When we look forward, the success of the device – that reflects both its design evolution and the strategy of backwards compatibility with accessories – means that we will continue with this winning formula. It’s a formula that provides customers with a high-performance, predictable and stable mobile computing environment that delivers a low total cost of ownership and extended return on investment.