Finding the right computer and IT solution can be complicated in many warehouse locations due to the type of environment in which inventory control systems have to operate. Standard office computer systems are not designed to operate in the rigors of the warehouse world, which makes the choices for an IT solution rather limited.
Warehouse locations pose particular challenges for using IT systems. Using computers, printers, monitors, and peripherals can be difficult because of the various elements and conditions present in the warehouse environment, which include:
Dust – many warehouse locations are far dustier than the average office environment. Dust can cause all sorts of problems for IT equipment. Dust can clog filters, causing PCs and monitors to overheat; build up on circuit boards and lead to short circuits; clog up keyboards; and ingress into printer systems causing breakdown. Therefore, any IT solution that has to operate in a warehouse environment needs to be able to cope with the prevalence of dust.
Liquids – present in many warehouse locations, liquid and IT doesn’t mix well. Even the smallest amount of moisture can lead to a PC failing so if liquids are present any IT system needs to be impervious to it.
Temperature – in food distribution warehouses, chilled environments also makes things difficult when it comes to selecting IT. Not only do standard PC systems not cope too well when temperatures are close to freezing, but also printers don’t work as the ink starts to coagulate and freeze.
Physical impact – the warehouse environment can be a rough one. A sideswipe from a forklift or pallet truck could easily disable a computer or monitor, so warehouse IT systems need to be tough and rugged.
The most common solution for IT use in warehouse environments is the solid-state industrial computer. These devices are built without moving parts so are tough and rugged and are sealed to prevent ingress of dust or liquids. They also have wide operating temperature ranges so can cope in chilled environments. For input, touch screens are common because they eliminate the need for a separate keyboard and mouse, which are not only vulnerable to the many elements present in the warehouse environment but also their trailing wires can be a trip hazard.
Industrial computers, often called panel PCs, are however, limited in their range, and often while the technology is tried and tested, this also means they are often quite outdated in comparison to the average office PC. The good news is that most peripherals, such as barcode scanners, can be used with most industrial PCs, although if things go wrong, the industrial computer will have to be sent away for repair, so a back up is always worth having.
An alternative solution that offers a little more flexibility is the industrial computer enclosure. These rugged cabinets house standard office IT and can protect computers, monitors and even printers from the hazards of a warehouse environment. Often they are built to National Electrical Manufacturers Association guidelines (NEMA), with the various standards indicating the type of environments in which the enclosures can operate.
There are a wide range of different computer enclosure solutions. Some simply offer dust, liquid and physical protection, but for chilled environments a range of heated enclosures enable the use of computers, monitors and printers to be used in cold environments. The big advantage of these enclosures is that they enable you to homogenize the warehouse IT with the office systems, and as they house standard IT hardware, if things go wrong, your IT department can easily repair or replace the enclosed PC, eliminating any downtime. As with industrial PCs, all barcode scanners and inventory tools can be easily plugged into the enclosed PC, and a range of wireless and waterproof keyboard and mouse options provide a rugged solution for inputting data.
Reducing costs and improving efficiency is on the top of any warehouse manager’s agenda. Whether it’s finding the right forklift solution, the best deal on HGV insurance, or coming up with methods of order processing that are more efficient, small changes can make a big difference in warehousing. As with any other aspect of business, using computers to handle inventory and process orders can help streamline warehouse processes and make things more efficient, reducing time wasted by employees and save both time and money.