How Mobile Printing Benefits Warehouse Operations

Selected excerpts from the Zebra Technologies White Paper.

Executive Summary

To maintain accuracy and efficiency in warehouses and distribution centers, barcoding and radio frequency identification (RFID) systems are indispensable. Businesses can enhance these benefits by using mobile printers to produce and attach barcode and RFID labels at the point of application. Supplementing stationary barcode and RFID printing operations with mobile printers can reduce operator errors, streamline operations associated with labeling in inconvenient locations, and eliminate costs associated with correcting errors.

Using mobile printers to eliminate the distance that workers travel to pick up labels can boost productivity, often providing a full return on investment (ROI) in less than a year when used in warehouse, distribution center, and other industrial environments. The ROI is especially strong for facilities with existing wireless LANs, because a relatively small incremental investment in mobile printers creates new ways to increase efficiency, reduce operator errors, and leverage the wireless infrastructure investment.

RFID is an automatic identification technology that relies on radio frequency (RF) waves to read encoded digital data. RFID is similar to barcode technology in concept. Unlike a barcode, RFID does not require a visible tag or label to read its stored data.

Switching to Mobile Printers Delivers Real Results

The case for using mobile printers becomes stronger with every step users must take to pick up labels. Zebra Technologies conducted a time-motion study of receiving operations, in which the warehouse worker only had to take nine steps to travel from the pallet with items for labeling to the workstation where labels were printed. Pallets were labeled in 42 percent less time (28.11 seconds compared to 49.74) when belt-worn mobile printers were used to eliminate the short walk to the central printing station. Based on the volume of materials processed at that particular distribution center, managers quickly determined that a mobile printing system could provide significant productivity gains and a rapid ROI.

However, there is still tremendous value in developing new procedures featuring mobile printers to improve accuracy rates even further. Today, most companies have inventory control systems that efficiently manage inventory. However, these systems can only be as accurate as the data entered into them. Inventory accuracy is critical to having the proper inventory at the right time. Increasing safety stock to make up for poor accuracy leads to lower inventory turns and negatively impacts return on assets (ROA). Mobile technology provide a mechanism for warehouse personnel to perform cycle counts while they are in the aisles, improving real-time inventory accuracy.

Other forms of accuracy problems, such as shipping the wrong item or quantity, or shipping cartons to the wrong customer, also create hidden expenses that undermine profitability. For example, the industry considers 2.5 percent as a typical error rate for warehousing operations, and various studies have determined that shipping errors cost a company between $60 and $250. The cost of errors varies by the expense of shipping replacement orders, warehouse labor, and handling expenses, sales and customer service time spent on error resolution, and other factors. At the standard error rate of 2.5 percent and an error cost of $60, a company loses $150 for every 100 orders processed. If errors cost $250 to resolve, the error cost per 100 orders jumps to $625.

Consider a company that ships 100 orders a day, has an error rate of 2.5 percent, and spends an average of $100 to resolve each error. Errors cost the company $250 per day. If the company has a five-day workweek A Zebra Technologies White Paper 5 and operates 52 weeks a year, the errors cost $65,000 annually. A one percent improvement in the error rate, from 2.5 percent to 1.5 percent, would save $26,000 error-related expenses annually. If the company has a profit margin of 5 percent, it needs to bring in $1.3 million in revenue just to offset the cost of errors if the error rate is 2.5 percent ($65,000 annual error cost ÷ .05 profit = $1.3 million).

High Printer Performance Enables Productivity

Mobile and wireless printing offer options to make select warehouse labeling operations more convenient, improve productivity, and reduce labeling errors. Supplementing enterprise printing operations with mobile printers can produce time savings that eliminate bottlenecks, or boost accuracy that results in better overall performance of warehouse management, shipping, and other operations. The examples presented in this white paper show how saving a few steps, or improving upon already accurate identification and labeling procedures, can produce measurable cost savings and productivity gains. Enterprises can maximize these improvements by selecting the products and features that best meet operational requirements.

Read the full white paper at