NewsletterAll we need is your e-mail address, and we’ll send you the TodaysWirelessWorld.com e-mail newsletter each month for free.
Automation has been an incredible boon to managers of distribution centers, who count on hardware and software to wring every last inefficiency out of their production processes. Though digital technologies can limit human error and cut personnel costs in distribution centers, they also heighten one risk: There are fewer people on the shop floor to spot small problems before they turn into major crises.
With ever-smaller staffs overseeing ever-more-complex distribution systems, real-time communications are mandatory. People working in a large warehouse are constantly on the move, so a fixed phone line isn’t much help. Production glitches also have an uncanny knack for cropping up at the remotest possible distance from the nearest phone.
Cellphone service is too spotty for mission-critical communications, and too pricey for cost-conscious facility managers. Also, cellphones are designed for one-to-one communications, so they’re useless when several people need to get the same message at once.
All these reasons are why two-way radios are essential in distribution centers. Nothing beats the simplicity of pressing one button on a walkie-talkie and immediately talking to someone on the other side of the facility. Whether there’s a mechanical breakdown, a health emergency or an intruder alert, two-way radios eliminate the distance between people who need to talk to one another right now.
Why today’s distribution centers need digital radios
Analog two-way radios have helped keep warehouse personnel connected for decades. The question on a lot of facility managers’ minds these days is whether they need to upgrade their radios to digital technology.
If you’re one of those managers, the answer is probably all around you already. Distribution facilities are at the forefront of wireless technologies for connecting inventory-control devices to a WLAN and constantly monitoring every product at every point on the distribution chain. Analyzing that data is essential to making facilities more efficient.
Digital radios communicate in much the same ways as those handheld inventory-control devices: Software delivers packets of data over an Internet Protocol, or IP, network. The only difference with a radio is that it translates the human voice into data packets for transmission to other digital radios.
That means if you already have a WLAN in your distribution center, you’re already using digital radios in the form of wireless access points. Portable digital two-away radios are, in effect, network-computing devices with IP addresses that can communicate with any other network-connected device that has voice capability.
WLAN technology gives a digital radio global range, so engineers at the main office can consult with a technician on the shop floor hundreds or thousands of miles away. Digital radios also can be programmed to perform basic functions like turning on security cameras and opening front gates.
Some digital radios have GPS tracking that allows managers to instantly locate their workers. Others have keypads and LCD screens for instant messaging and fetching phone numbers, addresses and other bits of vital data.
Digital radios generate data like any other networked device, and that data can be analyzed to further improve a facility’s efficiency. That can help distribution centers recover some of the cost of their investment in digital radios.
Considerations for upgrading radios in distribution centers
Digital two-way radios immediately become part of your IP infrastructure, and optimal integration may require assistance from a manufacturer or dealer with broad experience in sophisticated wireless networks.
Icom America is one such manufacturer. The company’s IDAS (Icom Digital Advanced System) platform combines digital radios, repeaters and software for manufacturers, public safety agencies, colleges and other organizations that have robust communication needs. Distribution centers are just one type of enterprise that benefit from IDAS technologies.
Icom’s IC-F3161/4161S series portable digital two-way radios deliver some of the key features to look for:
Advances in microelectronics and semiconductor design are allowing more features to be packed into digital radios every year. Those same advances are reshaping the work of distribution centers.