As specialty coats and gloves are important to warehouse workers on cold storage areas, mobile data collection computers, bar code scanners, label printers and wireless infrastructure must be built to work under freezing environment.
Standard equipment configurations deliver less-than-expected performance if they are consistently used inside freezers or exposed to frequent temperature changes. Moving computers and portable printers between normal-to-hot and cold areas is extraordinarily hard, even if it is a rugged device. Handheld’s LCD screens will haze, batteries won’t work properly and processors may not work as anticipated causing delays on the transaction performed on your warehouse management system (WMS). Repeated condensation will cause corrosion on internal components, provoking short circuits.
Warehouse with cold storage areas should not being suffering of mal-function equipment because of their environment. There are specialized mobile computers and scanners designed to work under extreme conditions like freezing cold and moist.
- Condensation and frost obscures mobile computer’s LCD screens, so users can’t see the data they are entering.
- Bar code readers and image capture devices will not read if they are covered with frost, causing manual entry. Keys can also became useless, disabling the keyboards.
- Batteries will also be affected, as they are not going to be able to release energy when temperature drop below certain levels.
- Wireless infrastructure may under-perform with as less range throughput as radio waves travel different under cold air.
- Insulated areas can also limit the movement of radio waves. Insulated materials absorb RF signals creating multi-path propagation and interference. This means that the radio signal can reach the receiving antenna by two or more paths.
Solutions for Cold Storage Warehouse Management
- Integrated Heaters
Factory installed heaters can help prevent condensation on both monitor display of the mobile unit as well as in the bar code reading component. Internal heaters are recommended for equipment used consistently at temperatures of 14°F / -10°C and below, or will frequently move in and out of cold areas.
- Use the correct Batteries
Low-impedance lithium-ion batteries specially formulated for cold-temperature use are available. These batteries will release their charge at colder temperatures than will standard models, and have lower failure points. Lead acid batteries are another alternative. They suffer less cold degradation than Li-Ion batteries, but are less power efficient relative to their weight.
Standard configuration mobile computers use Li-Ion batteries. Cold temperatures prevent common Li-Ion batteries from releasing their charge, making the powered device unusable until the battery is warmed. Li-Ion batteries also tend to fail completely when temperatures reach -22°F (-30°C), which are common in frozen storage areas.
Technology equipment for warehouses should be made from durable material suitable for industrial applications. A strong seal is essential for preventing moisture and condensation from damaging the inside of the equipment.
The Ingress Protection (IP) rating is an independently certified measurement of how well a device is protected against environmental conditions. The first digit in the two-digit IP rating indicates how well the device is sealed against particles, the second against water. Particle ratings range from 0 (no protection) to 6 (dust tight). The second digit is more important for cold environment use and It ranges from 0 (no protection) to 8 (sealed against full immersion in water).
Rugged devices like handhelds and mobile printers typically have an IP54 rating, and that’s using external protective case. This means that they are protected against dust and splashing water, but not enough for cold environments, particularly where frequent entry and exit from the cold environment will cause condensation. An IP65 rating is more appropriate for cold environment and they are sealed to withstand jets of water, which is sufficient protection to prevent internal moisture.
- External Connectors
Connectors are links to the computer and peripherals or power sources (e.g., the battery on a vehicle mounted computer). Most of these connectors clip into place on standard mobile computers. However, screw-in connectors on units for cold environment are a better option, as it provides a seal against moisture that can damage the connectors on both sides.
- Wireless Infrastructure
Popular industrial wireless communication technologies, including Bluetooth and IEEE 802.11-standard wireless networks, can be used in cold storage and freezer environments. Some adjustments may be required to wireless LANs to ensure consistent, quality performance.
Access points (APs) often need to be installed directly in refrigerated or frozen storage areas to provide coverage there, because thick walls and insulation can block signals from APs outside the cold zone. Access points installed in refrigerated or freezer zones, should be put into a heated enclosure to protect against condensation and cold.
The multi-path effect is a real concern for any insulated, cold or damp environment, and is especially so for cold storage facilities, where all these conditions are present. There are specialized antennas that can be used with common access points to correct for the multi-path effect. Such antennas are highly advantageous for providing wireless LAN connectivity to mobile computers used in cold storage environments. We strongly recommend a RF Site Survey to assure correct wireless infrastructure deployment.
- Bar Code Readers
Barcode scanners need a direct line of sight to the label for accurate reading and decoding, so fogging or condensation on the scanner optics can present a problem. The best solution is to have the bar code reader integrated as a component of the hand-held computer, to take advantage of the computer’s internal heater to function properly.
Hand-held computers are available with long-range scanners, and can be used with powered vehicle mount cradles. This makes them an intriguing option for forklifts in cold storage areas. However, hand-held devices may not always be a viable option on forklifts, and the wireless or tethered hand-held scanners that are typically used in conjunction with true vehicle-mount devices are not available with internal heaters. In these cases, heated holsters can be used to mitigate problems with condensation.
Bluetooth is a popular option for interfacing barcode scanners and other peripherals to mobile computing. It is especially valuable in cold environments, because the wireless interface eliminates worries about connector failures from condensation.
- Alternative Data-Collection Options
Speech recognition and RFID are alternatives to bar codes for accurate data entry, and have several advantages for cold environments. Speech recognition terminals are worn on a belt or shoulder holster, rather than carried, and can be worn under a coat. Terminals worn under coats aren’t exposed to the temperatures cold enough to cause problems.
RFID is advantageous because it requires no line of sight for data entry. Therefore, the condensation that can plague bar code readers is not a factor. Condensation frequently occurs after pallets are shrink-wrapped, which makes it extremely difficult to read bar code labels under the wrapping. RFID is a good option for identifying cases and pallets after the shrink-wrap process.
Thriving in cold conditions requires the ability to adapt to the environment. Mobile computers, scanners and printers can be adapted for cold-environment use with heaters, housings, components and peripherals that set them apart from standard configuration models.
Without these adaptations, mobile computers are at significantly elevated risk for failure, putting organizations at risk for lost productivity as well as unnecessary repair and replacement costs. Seemingly minor problems such as frequent battery changes and devices periodically being unusable because of condensation problems drive up operating costs by reducing productivity and threatening on-time performance.
MultiSystems mobile data collection and enterprise mobility solutions enable companies and their mobile workers to accomplish immediate results by extending their capabilities with a full-featured solution that provides a total insight of your warehouse transactions having exactly what you want, without holding more than you need. We provides all the programming and implementation, configuration, documentation and training to ensure your new solutions success.
Our assessment services include a comprehensive analysis of your current process and environment to determine your mobility needs, application development and integration, mobile deployment planning, any required managed services and devices support.
Contact us today and learn how we can integrate today’s technologies with your cold warehouse operations.
*Information provided in part by Honeywell Scanning and Mobility. The Cold Hard Facts:Using Rugged Mobile Computers in Cold Environments and Zebra Technology.