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In today’s blog, I’m gonna go over the components and the systems in order to get the warehouse management system done for your warehouse or your facility. I get a lot of calls when people are looking for a barcode wireless system or barcode scanning system.
I’m gonna go over the basics of what you need in terms of getting your warehouse set up for warehouse management systems. I’m gonna go over the hardware, the components, the software typical use case scenarios and what I’ve seen in the industry.
A little bit of my background. I’ve been doing this for about 18 years started in 1999 even before 2.4 and 5 gig was out. I was doing a lot of wireless site surveys in 1999 like I mentioned it was before 802 11. This is before 2.4 existed in five gigs so we were working off of the nor end 900 megahertz system and that’s a little bit of background about me. I flew all over the world doing site surveys of implementations did over a thousand site surveys.
The first thing we’re going to need is this
You’ve seen this kind of device in large shopping centers like Walmart, the bay, Canadian tire, pretty much a lot of facilities have this barcode scanner and it’s an 802 11 device that connects to your typical wireless LAN system. If you’re an IT administrator and you used to manage a lot of wireless devices. This can be challenging because this is a lot different. They don’t carry the same amount of milliwatts power and in terms of the radio and they’re also known for being fast roaming devices.
A lot of companies hire me or hire our team to do these types of implementations because we have a lot of experience with fast roaming devices wireless scanning bt100 applications. Those are kind of protocol that connects from here (showed in the image) over the wireless to your server whether you’re running a UNIX server or AWS hosted kind of environment so that’s what a lot of companies hire our team for and like I mentioned it’s very different between stationary laptops and this in the warehouse. Because of a lot of times, this device is on a forklift and they’re going about five kilometers an hour or even 10 kilometers per hour, they’re zipping through miles and a lot of metal and a lot of product whereas laptops they have a lot more radio power, their stationery so, your access point doesn’t have to adjust a lot.
This model that I am holding on is MC 9300. It’s made by Zebra. Zebra started a symbol as a company then Motorola bought them out and Zebra bought them out so now they are called Zebra. This is a zebra wireless device. This is the brick style MC 9300 and they’re very popular. Probably, one of the most popular devices out there in the market.
Let’s started into the components of a wireless system. The first components that we were all aware of are your backbone. Wireless is just an extension of your wired network. Typically you’ll gonna have your MDF. Let’s say this is your main distribution area (showing in the image) that is called an MDF. Let’s say that’s your main course which you’re gonna have and typically, in your warehouse management system or design I’m gonna have multiple redundant switches coming into the warehouse and then from there what you gonna have is cat6 or copper runs. That’s spread out to different access points in the building. I showed in the video what I am talking about. For redundancy, I carry one AP.
Now, you’re probably looking at this image and saying well why did you do that? Why don’t you just have one switch? So, the reason why I don’t have one switch is that I’ve seen this in a lot of warehouses that they only have one switch and they have a large shipment or put away from home depot truck came in and they’ll usually dock you if you’re driver or your pallets aren’t ready to go.
What ended up happening is one of the main switches went down in the warehouse and they were down for two days. All of the deliveries whether it was home depot or Walmart the drivers that were scheduled for that day have picked up so they had docking fees. I think it was like over 7,000 per three hours what they estimated.
That’s redundancy, there was a switch that went down and also some cabling. So they are troubleshooting for days. This is the reason why I have multiple switches in the warehouse just to have redundancy. So if the switch goes down at least the other switch might have a link to another access point in this area. What could happen is the access point, let’s say you were only operating at 50% kilowatt or 50% power if we detect that other switch goes down and the AP’s are down. I can boost from 50% just for a temporary time being to a hundred percent and hopefully I get more coverage within those areas. This is all based on your site survey.
The very first step to doing anything prior to put any access points getting a quote, getting a switch, the very first thing you need to do is have a site assessment or a wireless site survey and in your wireless site survey that number 1 thing that you need is spectrum analysis.
Now, quote me on this if you’re not using our company and you are using another company the main thing you need is the spectrum analyzer. Because what a spectrum analysis is gonna going to do is make sure that you have 2.4 or 5 gigs of clean air. If your air isn’t clean in the warehouse there’s no point in putting 2.4 or 5 gigs. You may go cellular to your scanner. It’s gonna cost a lot but it’s use case scenario like if you need to use cellular so be it.
If you can’t use 2.4 because it is too crowded or you can’t use 5 then you can’t. So that’s the first thing. To get spectrum analysis. We use spectrum analysis by a company called meta geek or a reseller for them and they’re pretty much the gold standard. So that’s the first thing. Get a wireless survey.
Your wireless site survey is your bible or certification. Just to show that we have proper heat maps, proper signal to noise ratio and proper RSSI. Heat maps meaning it’ll show colors of SNR and it’ll show whoever is looking at that there are no dead spots because they have gone through, they’ve done every walk and we can see every point.
I’ve been in a lot of conference calls and meetings between two vendors fighting. The number 1 vendor is an example, Motorola, saying well it’s not our stuff then I have a conference call with the client-vendor like symbol Motorola they’re in a kind of a pissing match or a battle saying “Hey, well it’s not my stuff” and when it all comes down to it. They’re gonna ask for that report certification and there have been too many times where I’ve been in that situation and they’ll say well we don’t have the site survey or we’ve never got a site survey was done and the first thing both parties are gonna say is getting a site survey done it’s someone in getting a heat map because they want to make sure that the air is clean because if the air isn’t clean they don’t know they’re just speculating. Basically, you’re wasting man-hours or labor hours. There’s a lot of time involved that’s why I really emphasize on-site survey certification, spectrum analysis a whole bunch of stuff.
You’re gonna need access points, copper cabling, and switches. The design part is a little tricky. There’s valance segmentation running 2.4 or 5, your firewall rules. You got your access points. We’re a big Meraki seller. It’s the ease of use, ease of management and if you have a large IT department or even if you don’t, what you can see or what you can filter and what you can do in terms of Cisco Meraki is it’s amazing as you have just so much reporting, you have alerts, you have notifications, you can test the cabling, the copper, you can get alerts of what’s down whether it’s your gateway whether it’s the access point whether it’s your DNS server and so on.
Also, the support is so second to none. I’ve done a lot of cutovers at 2 in the morning on a Sunday and I always get a response from Cisco Meraki whether it’s coming from the Philippines or they’re in Mexico, Israel or Lebanon, there’s always someone there. They’re not just a junior level tech support person. Most of them can do like packet sniffing, packet captures. I’m very impressed with them.
Next, you gonna need a label printer or barcode printer. Typically what I’ve seen in the barcode or in the warehouse management system is the zebra series. So Zeb 410, Zeb 420 or Zeb 510 is the high-end industrial barcode label printers. MSRP is about 2,000-3,000.
I would say 80% of the time when it goes down. It’s usually firmware related, alignment related and just simple maintenance of cleaning of rollers like the platen rollers and that’s for the printers. You probably have a couple of printers located within your warehouse at each station then you might need 10 clients in order to connect like a dumb terminal from your laptop or PC or monitor down back into your warehouse management server.
We’re done with the hardware side. Now, I’m gonna talk about your warehouse management system or your WMS server. In terms of your software. What you gonna have here is let’s say a bunch of our RF aba they connect over your wireless network to your AP over the network into your wire let’s say this is a WMS server. That’s your warehouse management server and some companies do this where they go wireless direct to WMS. I don’t like the set up that I showed in the video because if you’re going direct to your warehouse management server there’s a point of failure or you can drop connections and then anything within your drop connection or let’s say your users are picking replenishment or doing put away on their wireless scanners and let’s say the battery dies, you room from one access point to another access point and you lose a connections. What ends up happening with that session on that screen is it’s get reset. It brings them back to the login screen.
If you have a lot of users in your warehouse like a hundred plus scan guns. I’ve been in implementations where we’ve had 200 guns and when one of my customers didn’t have a set up where they had a server in the middle that handle such session persistency and what it ended up happening is the RF guns would lose a connection. They get back into the sign-on screen.
If you had a server in the middle that handles your sessions. Basically, how it works, it’s gonna do a call request to your warehouse management server or your database, your WMS server is going to send that screen. Let’s say this user is in picking screen it’s gonna send that screen, hold a session into there and this happens within like milliseconds very fast. It’ll receive it and it’ll send it back to the client middle server connection.
The server that we like to use or what we’ve seen is a Vontae or wave link or stay link. My personal favorite is staying link. Basically, there’s client software that gets put on to your Zebra device which is the staling client. Then you have your client-server which is usually like a windows server or could be a UNIX server or sometimes that software resides on your WMS server which is your AS400 we’ve seen this staling server reside on the AS 400 so then, it’s creating connections directly while AS 400 and your WMS or your staling server is handling all these sessions. It’s really good because you can manage to stay linked and your clients from the stay link administrator which can be given to your warehouse manager and your IT admin staff and everyone can manage those connections. They can see what’s going on. Let’s say you had your head office in vendor Denver but your warehouse was in LA what you can do from Denver your IT staff could actually manage those connections reboot it in this session, delete the session we add it or let’s say we need to move an existing session from this gun to and iPad. That’s the beauty of having a WMS client-server in the middle. I always recommend that because of fast roaming devices. Wifi is not an exact science you’re gonna have disconnections you’re gonna have dropped but as long as you have such session persistency in the middle like a stale link, you’re gonna have a clean running warehouse that is managed by your IT staff or your warehouse managers and then if there’s any problem stale link is a great company.
That’s the typical set up you’ve got your WMS, you have your staling server, you have your RF then after that it’s just a matter of how you design everything. Site survey, access points, VLANs, I recommend segmenting your VLANS just for RF only.
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