The use of PDAs and the like in logistics is increasing. Even cell phones are provided with a barcode scanner and software to read codes, decode them and store the information in the phone. These new developments will lead to significant changes in logistics communications.
The new techniques first will make it possible to use a small and light weight cell phone in warehouses instead of hand held terminals, the ones that are known for several years now. Also PDAs with their larger and wider screens, the possibility of the use of touch screens as well as electronic pencils will become more popular. And than there is the even better applicability of cell phones as well as PDAs with its cell phone communication module, namely the possibility to distribute the scanned information immediately by GPRS to the host computer.
It replaces the need of RFDC (Radio Frequency Data Communication) applications in warehouses. These are the systems the hand helds are connected to nowadays, but the GPRS systems work without Access Points and transmitters/receivers inside buildings and other work sites.
It could mean that hand held terminals and conventional RFDC not to mention batch terminals with cabled networks nearer the end of their life cycles. It sounds like to be an image of the future but it appears to be reality since already several systems are in use.
As it is nowadays
Already more than fifteen years RFDC (also known as local area networks, LAN) is in use in most warehouses. It increased operations in many ways. It not only increased efficiency and decreased operational costs but also resulted less delivery faults and therefore fewer complaints from clients.
In external distribution wide area communications (WAN) became popular. Since it became possible to use car phones and facsimile machines in trucks and other motorcars, transporting companies started to provide their drivers with these solutions to have them every minute under control. At first it helped against theft but soon it lead to better operations because of immediately communications between home base and driver to report routing changes, delay times or new delivery or picking orders. Since a few years PDAs and cell phones dominate external logistics communication.
We saw in warehouses the traditional hand held computer terminal change from a batch working system (storing information during operations and down loading this information after some time or after closing tasks into the host computer) into an on line and in-real-time communicating device. The Access Points took over the communication possibilities from the cabled networks and mobile transport like forklifts were provided with truck terminals. As explained it leads to faster and more efficient as well as more reliable operations. The hand helds therefore still are the most popular devices in warehousing and production.
In external distribution however the use of batch terminals changed. When drivers had WAN-connectivity, they were supplied with large devices (often including printing modules) to register their activities with clients. Also the information from the trucks board computers speed, stops was transmitted to the host computers. But since their appearance more and more PDAs and cell phones came into use. They work in fact independently, as long as there is a GSM transmitter nearby. Even inside buildings they work without local area networks but with GSM and GPRS. With these techniques they communicate the information directly to host computers at home bases.
But it is also possible to distribute the information directly to other partners in the supply chain. Therefore these supply chain partners have to be aware of these possibilities and make sure they can receive and process the information.
And since it is also possible to put the information in databases where logistic partners can log-in and read about the status of their shipment via internet connectivity, the demand of these information sharing grows.
Again it is possible because the PDAs and cell phones communicate permanently with the host computer at the companys headquarters by GSM when operating in countries with sufficient GSM covering. If not, it can be made possible by means of GPS. But with all this, there is another emerging novelty, which makes the use of these devices even more interesting.
The new possibilities: automatic presence registration
This namely is the possibility to register the drivers presence at customers buildings etc. and the delivery of goods when nobody is at presence to receive them.
To understand these new possibilities, it is needed to know how the systems work. In fact it is very simple.
The PDAs and cell phones store the same way as hand held terminals do for instance distribution lists. They content receivers addresses, pallet information or article information (in case of courier distribution it can be document numbers or so) and numbers of pallets to supply.
Of course the PDA is the best solution for this kind of applications because of its wide screen and large memory. But the electronics industry changed possibilities by adding a cell phone module into a hand held logistics terminal the well known hand helds for use in warehouses and then giving it the possibility to communicate with either the warehouse host computer or the home based computer of other logistic parties. Such as clients and shippers.
The PDA or the hand held with GSM module can be provided with software that broadcasts immediately and automatically the newly scanned information to any other computer. The driver is not in a position to change this activity and therefore this makes the use of the GSM module in the hand held or in the PDA an important device to provide companies with an automatically transmitted Prove of Visit and a Prove of Delivery.
Proof of Visit and Proof of Delivery
Also this works as simple as it could be. Since night distribution became popular especially in the Benelux and Germany it is very popular it was necessary for shippers to get information about the delivery of their shipment during night hours. When of course nobody is at present at the receivers buildings. As well shops as factories therefore were provided with special rooms of which the truck driver has a key or he knows the code of an electronic lock. The truck driver stops at the gate or door, opens it and puts the goods into the storage area, where it is found the next morning by the receivers employees.
But how do you know that the driver is at the right door and also brings in the right goods? And how do you know, being the drivers boss, that he delivered in time? The answer is as said, simple.
Every clients storage area is coded. With a unique bar code of with a RFID-transponder. The truck driver scans this code and also the bar codes on the pallet to deliver or the bar codes on individual packages. The software in the hand held or the PDA combines this information with the delivery date and time. The information is stored into the PDA or hand held or immediately transmitted to the host computer(s). But there is more. For the GSM system constantly communicates with every transmitting device in either a cell phone or a PDA as well as a hand held terminal with in-build GSM module. The GSM system even knows upto the minute where a cell phone device is located. With an accuracy of 200 meters. Inside an area of 2.000 meters wide. For that is how GSM systems work.
So, when the truck driver stops at the door of a clients establishment, the GSM module registers this. It can be reported to the truck drivers company, who gets with this a Proof of Visit. Together with the scanned information (bar codes) at the clients door and the bar codes of the shipment, it is a Proof of Delivery. It only needs an interface between your WMS and the GSM-provider to have the information exchanged.