How many seconds or minutes have you ever spent searching for a pen, a folder, a paperclip under piles of paper, on the floor, in the trash can (how did it get in the trash can)? And once you’ve found it, now you’re annoyed you lost it in the first place, and your zen-like state of productivity is long gone.
Maybe this isn’t quite as common an occurrence as it once was, but there are always small things that get in the way of us working as efficiently as possible. A lost pen, 10 extra steps in the warehouse, an iPad with a dead battery … all of these take away from the time we could be working and kill our efficiency.
This is the story of how one adaptive gaming controller revolutionized our packing station efficiency leveraging our Warehouse Management Software (WMS) along with our strong warehouse processes.
Barcode Scanning Loses its Shine
There is no doubt that handheld barcode scanners are a lifesaver, especially when talking about picking and packing in a warehouse. They reduce errors, allow for better quality assurance and save time.
However, there is still always a bit of lag between picking up the scanner, scanning the barcode and then placing the scanner down to continue working. Especially when you’re in the critical packing phase of an order. Maybe it’s one or two seconds, but shave those few seconds off every order you pack, and you’ve accumulated a lot of time.
This was the challenge for our ShipHero fulfillment centers where we also use our WMS; our packers who were unbelievably fast, wanted to be faster. They were looking for a non-wearable option. However, when the team investigated other options, like buttons for example they were either unreliable, inconsistent or far too expensive to make logical sense. So, maybe the handheld barcode scanner was as good as it gets.
Gaming to the Rescue
ShipHero employee, Lucas Warner, was still frustrated by this issue. Knowing there had to be a solution to the button issue, he started to think about what type of device currently existed that was durable, adaptive and fairly easy to program.
The answer lies in the gaming community. Xbox® released an adaptive game controller meant for gamers with limited mobility and less-than-fine motor skills. This type of device was exactly what could work for packing stations at ShipHero. When combined with a Logitech® button kit and some open source software, a solution was born.
One (or 17) Buttons to Rule Them All
Now with the touch of one or two buttons, packers can instruct ShipHero’s WMS to print the label/invoice and complete the order. The system uses different box sizes as the main differentiator. Once the box barcode is “scanned” – again at the touch of a button, instead of a handheld barcode scanner, ShipHero’s WMS knows what to do.
In total, there are currently 17 buttons that can be programmed with different command codes. Two of them are taken by the first two functions mentioned above (print label/invoice, complete the order). The other 15 are up for grabs.
The cost to make this upgrade is nominal – in fact, it’s cheaper than a socket mobile scanner, which is what most ShipHero clients use in their warehouses. The only hiccup right now is that, like many electronics devices, adaptive controllers and button kits can be hard to come by. So, if you’re looking to outfit a dozen stations, you might need to do it in waves instead of all at once.
When any new process replaces an older one that seemingly still works, the question is always, “But why?” Why should you bother to make this change?
Here are our top reasons:
- It’s more efficient. Even your fastest packers will improve their speed.
- It’s more cost-effective in the long run. It costs less than socket mobile scanners and the controller is meant to be durable. In the 18 months we’ve been using them, we haven’t had one controller wear out. (One died, but that was an internal connection issue – it wasn’t from overuse).
- It’s fun! Call me crazy, but packing orders all day isn’t that much fun. Your packers will get the tactile satisfaction of slapping buttons and accomplishing something.
I realize this last one might seem like a little who cares? But consider your current warehouse situation. Who are you looking to hire? Chances are you need new workers that may be a part of a generation already familiar with gaming and the satisfaction it brings.
The gamification of shipping is not a passing fad – it’s more of a long-term solution.
For example, ShipHero introduced the Hero Board – a running list of the top packers for the day – and it’s been a huge success. It helps to motivate the entire team to get more done and work more efficiently. Using an adaptive controller adds even more of a game-like feel to this friendly competition.
There’s also no discounting the “coolness” factor.
Innovation is the Future
People are always talking about innovation, AI and robotics in warehousing. And that stuff is coming – for some of you it’s part of your daily routine, and for others it’s still on your bucket list. But this type of innovation – a possible 3x upgrade in efficiency for a couple of hundred bucks, might reap bigger dividends in the short term than you could imagine.