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The Benefits of Vehicle Mounted Wireless Computers

Mobile technology has made its way into nearly every facet of our daily lives. Now more than ever, people have become accustomed to quickly accessing information wherever they want, using a device that is small enough to fit in their pockets. The warehousing industry is no exception. The convenience of mobile computing devices has proven extremely useful in warehousing applications; however, the same devices that most people use in their day-to-day activities wouldn’t last a day in any industrial application. A more rugged solution is required for warehouses to reap the benefits of using mobile computing devices in their facilities: enter vehicle mounted wireless computers.

VMUs Vs. Consumer-Grade Tablets

Vehicle mounted wireless computers (VMUs) are devices made specifically to be mounted to industrial vehicles, such as trucks, forklifts, and motorized pallet jacks. These mobile computers host a wide array of benefits to both daily warehouse operations, and to the operators themselves. However, vehicle mounted computers from most manufacturers can be quite expensive (well over $3,000 per unit- yikes!) and relatively enormous when compared to handheld devices.

Using a consumer-grade tablet rather than a VMU may seem like a viable alternative at first glance. They’re cheaper, smaller, and have all of the same computing capabilities, right? Well, sure- but they have one fatal flaw that makes them more of a liability than a tool when used in an industrial setting. Consumer-grade tablets are just that: consumer-grade. Their components, being relatively cheap and lightweight, simply aren’t designed to be subjected to the same kind of wear that a VMU must be able to withstand. The vibrations from rugged industrial vehicles, the need for an always-on display for sometimes days on end, and the harsh physical conditions are just a few warehousing-specific risks that ensure the quick, imminent failure of a consumer-grade tablet.

The advantage of using a VMU over a consumer-grade tablet simply comes down to durability. Being manufactured with industrial-grade components, rigid cases, and thicker displays makes vehicle mounted computers plenty tough enough for the job. They are built to last despite exposure to harsh conditions and negligent treatment, so they are far less likely to fail and need replacement as quickly as consumer tablets. However, we then come back to the issue of price and bulkiness.

While most manufacturers have those downsides, AML is different. Our Firebird Vehicle Mount Computer has all the best features in a compact size available to purchase at a competitive price. The compact size and lighter weight give the Firebird VMU two distinct advantages over competing computers. First, a smaller computer gives the vehicle operator a significantly wider field of visibility, up to 30% wider than comparable computers on the market. The 7” display, however, is still large enough for users to clearly read the information presented on the screen while seated. Second, its light weight makes the Firebird VMU less susceptible to damage from vehicle vibrations, bumps, and jolts. At nearly half the price of competing computers with Made in America quality that can’t be beat, the Firebird VMU is setting a new standard for industrial vehicle mounts.

Get The Most Out of VMUs with Barcode Scanners

For VMUs to be fully utilized, a connected barcode scanner is an absolute must. By connecting a barcode scanner, operators can update inventory data in real-time. There are two types of scanners to be considered, each with its own set of pros and cons.

For maximum mobility and safety, wireless scanners are the way to go. Bluetooth connectivity allows wireless scanners to relay data to vehicle mounted computers without the physical restraint of a length of cord. This convenience comes at a cost though. First, being cordless means that the scanner is powered by an internal battery. It may require charging during the shift depending on how often it is used. There can be a relatively simple solution if a charger can be mounted to the vehicle alongside the computer. The second, bigger issue is that a wireless scanner can be easily misplaced without a cord tethering it to the unit. Providing a holster or cradle on the forklift may be necessary to store the scanner. Any time spent trying to locate a wireless scanner is time lost.

Wired scanners provide the answer to that issue. If the scanner remains connected to the unit by a cord- typically a USB type- it will always be easily located within reach. Therein also lies the biggest limitation of a wired scanner: its reach is restricted by the cord. In addition, the power cord can present a physical hazard to the user if not properly managed. On the upside, a wired scanner will always have a steady power source from the connected computer. Be sure to consider all of these factors when selecting the proper barcode scanner for your particular application.

The Firebird VMU is compatible with both Bluetooth and wired scanners to meet a versatile range of warehousing needs. The unit can even be equipped with an integrated 2D scanner for easy scanning of handheld items like badges and travelers.

Android OS Simplifies Warehousing Operations

The handheld mobile devices used by most warehouse workers typically operate on Android OS due to its large host of benefits, and vehicle mounted computers should be no different.

Due to the popularity of handheld Android devices in warehouses, many inventory management software applications are already designed to be run on anFirebird VMU for forklift Android OS. Using desktop-type operating systems like Windows® on a forklift computer requires a larger display, typically 10” to 12”, resulting in a bulkier device. However, forklift operators need to be able to easily discern data while minimizing the obstruction of their view. Unlike desktop software, Android-based apps can scale their size up or down to fit different-sized displays, making them easily compatible with the Firebird’s 7” touchscreen. This view perfectly optimizes visibility for the operator, as the screen is large enough to display data in an easily readable format while also increasing their field of view compared to bulkier vehicle mount computers. Operators can even mount their Firebird VMU in either landscape or portrait orientation depending on their preference, and the application will adjust accordingly.  The Firebird VMU is also available with a secure industrial browser (AppLync) that allows it to connect to web-based inventory management systems that do not have an Android app available. Lastly, Android devices can also provide access to entirely text-based programs through the use of a terminal emulation software client- a feature built into the Firebird VMU. This is especially valuable when utilizing older legacy systems.

If your warehousing operations are not yet utilizing vehicle mounted computers, no time is too soon to start. With a wide range of undeniable benefits like low cost, equipment longevity, increased operator safety; the versatility of Android-based computing; and Made in America quality, there’s no reason to wait. If the Firebird Vehicle Mount Computer seems like the right solution for your business or if you’re simply interested in learning more, contact AML today.

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