Zebra Technologies, the maker of tech-enabled solutions for warehouses, distribution centers and other supply chain touch points, announced on Monday a pair of new products geared toward boosting the efficiency of warehouse workers.
The company demonstrated its new WS50 wearable Android computer and RFD90 sled at Modex 2022 in Atlanta, where materials handling companies from around the country and the world gathered to show off the latest in warehouse technology.
The first of the two products, the WS50, has the look of a bulkier Apple Watch, featuring a touch screen interface that attaches to the user’s wrist. Users also have the option to choose a back-hand mount that can be controlled with a button near the user’s thumb, and they can even wear the wrist-mounted model around a finger, allowing them to simply point at whatever they want to scan.
The bite-sized computer packs a big punch, with powerful data capture capabilities, an internal speaker and microphone and a Wi-Fi connection all built into the device. The wrist-mounted version is also outfitted with a camera, while the back-hand mount contains an imager. Notably, the WS50 runs on Android software for easy integration into other systems, whereas similarly compact devices would normally require a custom-built chip.
Because it’s so easy to integrate, warehouse workers can use the WS50 as much more than a scanner. It can be connected to a WMS or other warehouse software to enable task management, meaning that employees can access their workflows from anywhere.
And while Zebra (NASDAQ: ZBRA) sees the most obvious application of the WS50 in retail, the company told Modern Shipper that it’s also looking to bring the device to the hospitality sector, where its push-to-talk feature can enable better communication.
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“What we’re looking to do is make the people as productive as they can be,” Mark Wheeler, director of supply chain solutions for Zebra, explained to Modern Shipper. “When this is well implemented, we’re going to make the job of the material handler on the floor a lot easier because we’re going to dramatically reduce the miles that they walk every day — and it is measured in miles.”
But the WS50 isn’t the only piece of new technology from Zebra aimed at boosting worker efficiency by cutting out the fat in their workflows. Zebra also unveiled its RFD90 sled, a compact scanner capable of reading up to 1,300 RFID tags every second over long distances.
Like the WS50, the RFD90 is flexible and can be configured in a number of ways. Users can equip other Zebra mobile computing devices — like its TC5 and TC7 product lines — and can even attach a third-party mobile device like an iPhone through the sled’s Otterbox adapter, which allows it to accomodate any device with an Otterbox case. Like Zebra’s other sled offerings, the RFD90 comes with built-in Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.3 capabilities.
The sled comes in two models, the 22-foot range RFD9030 and the longer, 75-foot range RFD9090. Both models are IP65 and IP67 sealed, meaning the scanners keep out almost all dust and debris and are even capable of being submerged underwater. They also boast the ability to survive drops of up to 6 feet and are capable of operating in temperatures ranging from minus 20 degrees Celsius up to 55 C, making the sleds ideal for outdoor or rugged environments.
According to Wheeler, that ability to use the scanners in just about any environment is exactly what Zebra’s clients have been clamoring for.
“What we’re seeing is growing interest in RFID further back in the supply chain,” he explained. “So it’s well established in the retail store to get control of inventory in an otherwise fairly chaotic environment. But as companies try to operate with greater velocity, greater speed, they need to be able to sense the materials directly rather than indirectly.”
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Zebra demonstrated both the WS50 and RFD90 at Modex alongside several other offerings, including its recently announced FlexShelf autonomous mobile robot (AMR). The solution is a product of Zebra’s subsidiary Fetch Robotics and is optimized for e-commerce fulfillment, with a glove-friendly touch screen interface, an integrated barcode scanner and NFC reader and smart LED lighting that help workers pick and pack more accurately.
Also among the products on display was the ATR7000 RTLS reader, an overhead scanning device that enables real-time tracking and visibility within the warehouse. Wheeler explained that warehouse operators can wear mobile computers like the WS50 and attach RFID tags to objects like AMRs and pallets, which allows the reader to identify them and plot their movements on an interactive display. The solution also allows operators to parse through previous data to identify more efficient routing opportunities.
“One application for this that I think will probably be attractive is the idea of a bonded warehouse,” Wheeler added. “So if you have a bonded warehouse and everything is tagged, then you can have constant visibility. And if something leaves that space, you can have automated alerts.”
In addition to the product rollouts, Zebra also announced a Mobile Robotics specialization track for its PartnerConnect program, which allows select companies to borrow its products and solutions to accelerate time to market.
“This [introduction of AMRs] is kind of a departure for a lot of our established partners that are more used to dealing with RFID wearables,” Wheeler explained. “But for those that are very knowledgeable about the warehouse, they need a way that they can bring these solutions to market. And that’s what that program is all about.”
Going forward, Wheeler said Zebra plans to look at more machine vision applications. Already, the company is leveraging the technology in several of its offerings after acquiring machine vision provider Matrox Imaging earlier this month.
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