My Device photo c/o Kristine Moser

When one thinks of mobile management and platforms, likely the first one that comes to mind is Apple. Since debuting their signature smartphone in 2007, the market has been dominated with little competition in its’ wake. Now ten years later, Apple is not only facing a strong competitor but businesses are beginning to move their platforms from an Apple-based system to an Android one.

With recent collaborations between Zebra Technologies and Android, the two companies have brought together their software and user interface to create the new “My Devices” mobile aid for Target stores nationwide. You may have already seen employees using the devices when searching store stock or checking the status of an item online, as the product was debuted last summer. While the company did not cite a reason for the switch, Target employees have leaked on social media platforms that they were unhappy with the frequent errors and inability to change the device’s batteries.

Target’s shift from Apple to Android for a point of sale and management device is in line with a current trend we are seeing in both the business and consumer markets. While there is no doubt that the iPhone and Apple will remain a strong competitor in the market, the lack of updates and technology advancements from Apple in recent years is pushing many people to make the switch to another brand. The similarities between the Android Operating System and IOS also maintain many similarities, which omits a long learning curve.

Who do you think will eventually dominate the smartphone and mobile management market? Will the release of the iPhone 8 be a gamechanger?

Contact us today for information.

Zebra Technologies Unveils Savanna Platform to Power Data-Driven Applications for the Digital Enterprise

Zebra Savanna Platform

CHICAGO – Sept. 26, 2017 – Zebra Technologies Corporation (NASDAQ: ZBRA), the market leader in rugged mobile computers, barcode scanners and barcode printers enhanced with software and services to enable real-time visibility, today announced Savanna™, a fundamental building-block platform for accelerating Enterprise Asset Intelligence and the digital transformation of enterprise operations for Zebra’s customers and partners.

With the continued adoption of mobility and the Internet of Things (IoT), the edge of enterprise operations are becoming increasingly connected. This unprecedented, growing level of connectivity is generating vast amounts of actionable data about processes and assets that can be leveraged to transform workflows to improve business performance and outcomes. Savanna provides a means for Zebra, its partners and customers to build applications that make use of this edge data in near real-time to mobilize insight and actions that deliver new levels of service, productivity and profitability.KEY FACTS

  • Savanna is comprised of IoT end-point connectivity, configuration management, data transport, data storage, analytics and machine learning components.
  • With enhanced and secure device connectivity, Savanna gives organizations the power to gain insights at the edge of its operations – ensuring the right data is available to the right people at the right time, giving them the power and informed intelligence to make the best decisions.
  • As an open, centralized data platform designed to empower enterprise applications, Savanna will power Zebra® data-driven solutions along with applications and solutions built by Zebra partners.
  • Zebra has also launched a Savanna platform early adopter program, selecting five partners to facilitate the development of vertically-oriented applications using edge data and associated insights from Savanna. Savanna’s APIs and developer tools allow an ecosystem of partners to quickly, easily and cost-effectively create secure applications that integrate into other platforms and traditional enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems.
    • The partners selected globally are: Baidu Cloud, The Descartes Systems Group Inc., Problem Solutions, LLC, Reflexis Systems, Inc. and StayLinked Corporation.
  • Today, Savanna powers the data analytics and visualization behind some of Zebra’s Enterprise Asset Intelligence (EAI) solutions that are helping retailers, transportation carriers, manufacturers, hospitals and sports teams become more intelligent enterprises, including:
    • Asset Visibility Service (AVS)/Operational Visibility Service (OVS) gives customers and partners important insights and visibility into the health, usage and performance of their Zebra devices to help optimize business operations;
    • SmartLens™ for Retail turns an entire store into a “smart store” that automatically senses and records the location and movement of virtually everything in the store, allowing data to become actionable intelligence; and
    • SmartPack™ Trailer creates the most intelligent loading environments in the world by providing real-time visibility into loading processes to increase efficiency, allowing support for higher delivery volumes.
 Contact us today for information on how you can get started.

Thermal and Thermal Transfer Printer with suppliesThe names sound similar, so it’s easy to get confused about the differences between thermal printers and thermal transfer printers. The technologies are very different, and each one serves well in certain applications. Here’s everything you need to know about thermal and thermal transfer bar code label printers.

The Difference Between Thermal and Thermal Transfer Printers

Both technologies use heat to create an image on labels, and both technologies create clear, sharp images necessary for barcode reading. However, they use different methods to print barcodes.

  • Thermal transfer printers use a ribbon between the print head and the label. The print head heats the ribbon to transfer the image to the label.
  • Thermal (direct thermal technology) printers use chemically treated labels that are sensitive to heat. The print head blackens the label as it passes. There is no ink, toner, or ribbon involved in a thermal printer process.

Pros and Cons of Thermal Transfer and Thermal Printers

Thermal printers have an uncomplicated design that means they are reliable to operate. The cost of operating thermal printers for printing barcode labels is often lower with thermal printers because there is nothing required to create barcodes except the printer and the label. However, thermal images may fade over time or with exposure to heat and light, so the technology is best used in applications where the product is not in circulation for long lengths of time, or where the label will not be subject to those elements.

Thermal transfer technology melts the ink, which is absorbed by the paper label. This makes the images more durable. Image quality is often superior to other printing methods, making this technology ideal for use cases that require long-term readability. Thermal transfer printers can work with a wider variety of label materials, including paper, many plastics, and polypropylenes.

The Best Applications for Thermal Printers

  • shipping labels
  • pick lists
  • receipt tickets
  • inventory identification labels

They are also suitable for printing wristbands and event tickets, name tags, and visitor labels. The key requirement is that label readability should be of relatively short duration.

The Best Applications for Thermal Transfer Printers

Thermal transfer printing works well for applications where readability is required over a longer time.

  • asset tags
  • employee ID badges
  • patient wristbands
  • material certifications
  • serial number tags

In addition, labels that will be exposed to harsh conditions, chemicals, water, sunlight, sterilization, and temperature extremes are best created with thermal transfer printers. It is important to note that the thermal ribbon and the label material must be compatible to ensure that the ribbon’s ink can be absorbed properly.

Before investing in a thermal printing solution, consider all aspects and the life of the barcode labels you will be printing. We can help you determine which technology will be best for your application and ensure you have the right materials and compatible inks for your labels. Contact us today for more information.

Contact us today for information.

Originally Published in Made In PA Magazine on 8/10/2017.

Today’s manufacturers face some of the greatest challenges since the advent of the Industrial Revolution.

Demands for higher productivity at lower costs are pushing companies to become leaner and more efficient or face lost business and reduced market share.

All of this is happening while much of manufacturing is moving away from a make-to-stock approach, which is focused mostly on capacity and efficiency, to a make-to-order model, with an emphasis on production capability, flexibility, and responsiveness.

The resulting pressures can seem overwhelming, but manufacturers have a solution to these challenges at their disposal. Many are leveraging real-time process visibility and business intelligence to optimize their manufacturing performance.

Here are three ways manufacturers are doing it:

Living Lean

Companies that follow lean principles operate more efficiently—whether it’s by building to customer demand rather than forecasts, or bringing material to the plant only when needed, as opposed to keeping stockpiles on hand.

Every point in the supply chain can potentially harbor inefficiencies. Conversely, every visible asset or event can potentially be improved, optimized, planned or staged for maximum responsiveness, efficiency and flexibility.

This is far easier with visibility into all of your assets and individual processes. Manufacturers can achieve this by tracking and monitoring of every point in the supply chain and be deploying real-time data and analytical tools to provide a complete picture across their operations.

Shifting from Capacity to Capability

Many customers now demand greater production flexibility and
responsiveness, as well as product customization. This requires a shift away from a capacity focus and toward manufacturing capability. To make this transition, manufacturers need to be agile and reactive, and to do this is by empowering plant staff to be knowledge workers as opposed to operators.

When workers have analytical and decision-making skills, coupled with access to business intelligence and data from key processes and machinery, they can make decisions in real-time to support the most efficient means of producing and delivering the right products to meet customer needs.

Moving to Real-Time Data

Much of the information in a manufacturing enterprise sits in disjointed data silos. Systems are usually implemented at various points in the supply chain, and integrated with a central ERP system. However, while some of this data may be accessible centrally, the devices that track each asset or process often lack real-time connectivity. This limits business intelligence to a historical view rather than a current, real-time perspective.

By capturing data in real-time and turning it into actionable information, manufacturers can gain full visibility into their supply chain and any asset or process, at any given moment. This makes it far easier to react in real-time to changing customer demands or requirements, streamline and optimize processes on the fly, and evolve toward optimal production capability. It allows manufacturers to know exactly what’s happening at every stage in the supply chain and orchestrate production to deliver to order, maximize efficiency, and ensure the highest possible quality.

Ultimately, knowing the real-time status of every machine, component and finished good, and having the ability to manage and optimize mission-critical processes, will be the difference between best-in-class manufacturers and those who struggle to compete and survive.

To become a factory of the future, manufacturers will need to invest in the mobile technologies, automated data collection, connectivity, and business applications to make it all possible.

In our experience at Avalon Integration, implementing these technologies has been the best investment our clients have made. It’s made easier by emerging innovations in affordable and effective technologies for manufacturing automation and visibility, including solutions from our partners at Zebra Technologies.

To download Avalon’s white paper on the warehouse of the future, go to https://avalonintegration.com/news-and-resources/.

Contact us today for information.

There’s a lot of talk about RFID, but often times the thinking is that the cost outweighs the benefit. For high-volume, large production facilities or distribution centers, RFID can offer clear advantages over traditional barcode solutions. Here’s a look at some of the cases where RFID technology can virtually eliminate many of the challenges presented in a manual or even handheld barcode solution.

High-Volume Warehouses

Busy warehouses and distribution centers can truly benefit from RFID technology when it comes to productivity. Rather than manually scanning items as they are picked, an RFID reader can scan an entire pallet on a forklift when it passes by an RFID reader portal. The reader can be placed in the passageway between work areas to simplify the tracking process and even identify which worker or vehicle carried the items through. Any and all RFID tags that pass through the portal are scanned; enabling quick and reliable transactions without operator involvement.

Frequently Moved Items

Rental goods, service equipment, hand tools—any items that move frequently can be hard to track, but RFID tagging makes it easy. These items can be checked out automatically when they leave the warehouse or tool crib, and it’s easy to locate them later. RFID makes it easy to track the comings and goings of small or fast-moving items without imposing burdensome procedures on the staff. Missing a work tool? A record of the user who last checked it out can easily be tracked when the device contains an RFID tag.

Warehouses Looking for a Productivity Boost with RFID Technology

Barcode scanners use the line of sight to collect information, so the barcode itself must be oriented toward the reader. In a warehouse, when material handlers spend extra time arranging items to be sure the barcodes can be read, that means less time is spent moving on to the next step in the transaction. In addition, dirty, torn or misplaced labels can further slow down the process, costing businesses untold amounts of time and money.

RFID tags can be read from any angle and aa t great distance, so it doesn’t matter how the cartons or bins are placed on pallets. Workers simply pull the inventory they need and proceed to the next step. This improves location accuracy and reduces picking times, increasing the productivity of the warehouse.

Mixed Pallets or Serialized Goods

If you have a varied product mix, you may find that you don’t always ship full pallets of a single item. If you place different items on a pallet when using bar codes, you need to be careful that all labels are easily visible, and operators must take pains to ensure they scan every item. The same holds true for serialized inventory. Every serial number label must be easily visible if you are using barcodes for inventory transactions.

With RFID, the scanner can transact the entire contents of a pallet, regardless of the number of different items or serial numbers on the pallet. This simplifies palletizing goods, increases inventory accuracy and increases productivity because the RFID tag and scanner records the movement of each item simultaneously, without operator involvement.

Reduction in Pilferage

If products are highly desirable or valuable—think jewelry, high-end consumer electronics, designer clothing—using an RFID tag can help reduce pilferage. The scanner automatically records the movement whenever items leave the secure stockroom or warehouse. It can also track the transaction’s date and time, so you can review security footage if it’s available. Whether you have internal security or not, knowing that inventory is tagged helps to reduce temptation. As a result, your inventory shrinkage will be reduced and your margins will increase.

RFID Advantages with RFID Technology

  • RFID technology enables hands-free operation for inventory tracking
  • With RFID, workers can increase the number of transactions performed per day
  • Warehouse productivity and accuracy will improve
  • The hassle and cost of lost, stolen or misplaced inventory or assets are virtually eliminated

For more information on RFID technology for your warehouse, please contact us to schedule a consultation.

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Warehouse Environment with SR61 in use

Two technologies dominate in barcode scanning: laser and imaging. Each has specific strengths that make it more suitable in some applications than in others. Whether it’s an effort to make inventory management more manageable, tracking assets more streamlined, or giving your forklift operators greater flexibility on the go, the content below will help you decide which type of technology might be best for your application.

Ability to Read Multiple Symbols

In general, a laser handheld scanner can only scan 1D codes, making them unsuitable if you need to do any 2D barcode scanning. As 2D symbologies become more popular because of the increased amount of information they can hold, laser scanners may become less viable.

Scanning Distance

In inventory management or warehouse management use cases, a laser handheld scanner is ideal for hard-to-reach, out-of-the-way items stacked on high racks and shelving. An image scanner might struggle with long-distance scanning; although there are options designated for ‘extended range’ scanning that can be quite competitive. In general, however, laser is relied upon as the scanner of choice for long-range scanning tasks.

Motion Tolerance

Laser technology is highly tolerant to motion. Historically, laser scanning was superior to image scanning, but the latest imaging technology has narrowed the gap considerably. 2D imagers have superior capabilities for omni-directional scanning, making these devices better for odd-angle scanning (think retail, warehouse operations and picking/packing operations). Because the technology has become so advanced in terms of tolerance to motion, wearable image scanners (ring scanners and wearable computers) have been a successful way to improve worker productivity without compromising accuracy.

Ability to Read Poor-Quality Barcodes

Image scanners can often compensate for hard-to-read or damaged bar codes, producing a useable read even in conditions where lasers can’t. If you’re dealing with aged labels, labels exposed sunlight or harsh conditions that can cause deterioration of the label, an image scanner will be a better choice because of its superior reading capability.

Discrimination

If you are scanning frequently used bar codes from a list of grouped codes, it can be difficult for some image scanners to segregate and focus on just one code, although for close-range scanning either technology will perform satisfactorily. For long-range scanning, laser scanning is a likely choice for scanning selected barcodes.

Laser Scanner Use Cases

  • A laser scanner works well in applications that use only 1D bar codes
  • They are ideal for use in indoor locations where users may be scanning from a distance, such as vehicle-mount scanning
  • They also work well when selecting barcodes from a pre-printed sheet that holds an array of frequently used codes such as inventory transaction codes or locations

Image Scanner Use Cases

  • Image scanners work for either 1D or 2D bar code scanning
  • They do well in activities that occur outdoors, especially in sunlight
  • They work best when the barcodes are close to the scanner
  • Imaging technology is popular for wearables and cordless scanning to improve user mobility

Selecting the right handheld scanner can be complex, so it often pays to speak with an expert who can provide insight and guidance before you invest in a new solution. Contact us to learn more.

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As mobile devices become more capable, sometimes business owners think that using consumer-grade devices is a great way to save money while still increasing workforce productivity with a mobile solution. In many cases, however, using consumer-grade devices ends up costing more than an enterprise-grade device. This, in turn, leaves the business vulnerable to risks of additional downtime, increased errors, security issues and sub-optimal productivity. Here’s why.

Enterprise Devices Focus on Durability

There’s a reason people put their mobile devices in protective cases the instant they buy them. Consumer-grade mobile devices are inherently fragile, subject to shattered screens and damage from moisture, dust and other contaminants. They are designed for personal use, not a fast-paced, industrial (and often dusty) warehouse, distribution center or manufacturing plant.

Enterprise-grade devices are designed to stand up to the rigors of these environments. Industrial mobile computers, barcode scanning devices and rugged tablets can withstand falls onto concrete floors, and are sealed to withstand moisture, dust and temperature extremes that would destroy a consumer device in no time.

The cost of replacing broken consumer devices, not to mention the lost productivity, will quickly outweigh the upfront cost of purchasing a more rugged device that can stand up to your environment.

Network Flexibility

The Wi-Fi components in most consumer devices are good, but enterprise-grade devices are much better. They are designed to stay connected in motion even in areas with tall shelves, high ceilings, and high concentrations of metal or corrugated materials —two substances known to wreak havoc with Wi‑Fi signals.

Better connectivity and fewer dropped signals ensures that your transactions go through more predictably and information is easily accessible to your workers. Increased productivity and reduced investment in costly network equipment and repeaters are benefits of working with enterprise-grade devices.

Reliability

Devices best suited for fast-paced environments were designed to accommodate long work shifts with battery life to match—and in some cases, exceed—with multi-bay charging cradles and user-swappable batteries. They are also designed to be used by multiple users, so they can have many logins to help with transaction audit trails and accountability.

Device Management

Many enterprise-grade devices come with device management solutions pre‑installed for enhanced security. Remote management lets you:

  • diagnose failures or reset devices remotely
  • wipe sensitive data from lost or stolen devices
  • easily add VPN software
  • incorporate two-factor authentication
  • install other security features that are a hassle on consumer-oriented devices

Equipment Longevity

Strange to say, but consumer-grade devices are designed for a short life cycle. The consumer device industry thrives on frequent replacements, knowing that most consumers will not keep their devices more than a year or two. Enterprise-grade devices are designed for longevity and durability. They can take hard use over a longer life span than consumer devices are expected to endure, because the manufacturers know that a business is depending on the equipment. Heavy-duty usage is considered and expected during the design phase, so most devices are engineered to ensure that the equipment stays in service longer and offers excellent ROI.

A Wider Range of Accessories

Consumer-grade devices rarely need to work with high-quality scanning devices such as ring scanners or long-range scanners necessary to ensure productivity in a commercial environment. Commercial-grade touch screens will have higher conductivity so they can be used with gloves or stand up to drops and bumps or even extreme temperatures.

Don’t sell your business short by choosing consumer-grade devices to manage your business. Enterprise-grade devices are a much better investment and will improve productivity and reliability.

Contact us today for information.

Several weeks ago our own Mike Kula sat down with the radio hosts of the Pittsburgh Tech Council for an interview about technology and the factory of the future. Give it a listen!

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Manufacturing AutomationOne of the biggest offices divides between the Millennial generation and Baby Boomers is the debate over the necessity of brick and mortar office spaces. While Millennials argue that the standard office building is a waste of company funds and lacks culture, it is often viewed by older workers as a place to zone in and focus on the task at hand. Nonetheless, the challenge of mobile business is something that is affecting all companies today and refusing to jump on board, whether that means ditching your office building or not, is the quickest way to ensure failure for your business.

Are you taking the necessary steps to avoid being left behind?

Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM)

 Enterprise Mobility Management is a toolkit created by Zebra Technologies to utilize current Zebra Mobility Extensions. The toolkit provides users with access to the largest number of mobile computers in the market 

Mobile Device Management Solutions

 An increase in tech-savvy individuals has required companies to adapt to a different style of business. Investing in a mobile device management package is a great way for companies to manage turnaround time, as well as managing the devices throughout their cycle. Some may also argue that the devices typically included in mobile device management are easier to maintain over time than the standard devices used previously.

Working in the tech industry can give a false narrative to the idea of mobile management for many companies. While working in the tech industry may require you to stay up to date in new business practices, equipment and trends, that does not mean that you have to think about these things for your own work. But you should be! The access to a mobile management style is becoming more and more of a possibility workforce wide, are you taking advantage of the possibilities at hand?

Contact us today for information.