As a large and growing number of manufacturing companies update their processes for the 21st century and beyond, many look for ways in which they can boost their efficiency through both upgrading their ERP systems and putting more tools in workers' hands. One of the tools that's starting to gain a lot of traction thanks to the affordability of modern technology is devices that can aid in mobile data collection.

While mobile warehouse inventory management is nothing new, the spread of portable devices has reached something of a critical mass, allowing for just about any worker to use such devices with ease, according to a report from Modern Materials Handling. In the past, wearables were a little fragile and didn't always work as intended, but today's offerings are ready for a rigorous environment, and help workers operate with greater efficiency simply because they're less cumbersome than handheld scanning devices.

A growing market
The latest data suggests that wearable devices to improve a physical inventory count could grow at a compound annual rate of about 35 percent per year through the end of 2021, at which point there will be roughly 151 million units shipped globally that year alone, the report said. That's up from just 35 million that will ship by the end of this year. Warehousing and manufacturing companies are expected to buy more than 1 in 3 of those devices over the next five years.

"The fundamental attraction for wearables in industrial settings is that people can work in more of a hands-free and heads-up manner with better access to information as they carry out their work," Ryan Martin, senior analyst at ABI Research, told the site. "That hands-free nature of wearables leads to productivity gains and can help accuracy, especially versus more manual processes like using paper pick lists."

The benefits in action
One example of the ways integrating more mobile tech into a warehousing or manufacturing effort can pay off with ease comes from Indiana, where Merchandise Warehouse Company recently invested heavily in mobile gear to monitor its facilities' conditions 24 hours a day, according to RT Insights. While some of its issues went beyond needs mobile could meet, it also installed devices including handhelds and even technology to track its forklifts as they moved throughout the facility. But because the warehouses are refrigerated, the devices had to be upgraded to handle cold climate.

In all, MWC's efforts to integrate mobile and other technology into their existing operations helped to improve their inventory accuracy from 98.6 percent to 99.9 percent in short order, the report said.

That only serves to highlight the versatility these devices can bring for just about any need, and why it's important for manufacturers to investigate their own needs in this regard. The more they can do to determine whether mobile devices can help make them more efficient, the better off they're likely to be as their industry changes along with their individual needs.

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