Coats, hats and gloves are essential in order for warehouse workers to function more than a few minutes in cold storage areas. In much, the same way, mobile data- collection computers must be built to perform under these demanding conditions. Fortunately, low temperatures don’t have to mean reduced reliability and productivity. There are mobile computers, wireless networking gear, and data-collection peripherals available that are specifically made for prolonged use in cold, moist, and freezing conditions.
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 barcode reader integrated as a component of the handheld computer, to take advantage of the computer’s internal heater to function properly.
Handheld 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, handheld devices may not always be a viable option on forklifts, and the wireless or tethered handheld 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 the problems with condensation. Bluetooth is a popular option for interfacing barcode scanners and other peripherals to mobile computers. Bluetooth is especially valuable in cold environments, because the wireless interface eliminates worries about connector failures from condensation.
Speech recognition and RFID are alternatives to barcode for accurate data entry that 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 site for data entry. Therefore, the condensation that can plague barcode readers is no longer a factor. Condensation frequently occurs after pallets are shrink wrapped, which makes it extremely difficult to read barcode 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 can be adapted for cold-environment use with heaters, housings, components and peripherals that sets them apart.
The following table summarizes the differences between computers that are suitable for common and cold environments:
|FEATURE||STANDARD MOBILE COMPUTER||COLD ENVIRONMENT COMPUTER||COMMENTS|
|HEATED DISPLAY||No||Yes||Computers can have heated displays even if they do not have internal heaters.|
|HOUSING||Standard||Formulated to resist cracking when dropped in cold temperatures||Standard computers may not perform up to their specified drop rating when used in cold environments because the housing may become brittle.|
|CONNECTORS||Clip in or plug-in||Screw-in||Screw-in connectors a seal against moisture.|
|IP RATING||Typically IP54 or less||IP65|
|BATTERY||Standard lithium battery||High-grade lithium ion formulated for cold conditions; or lead-acid.||Battery comments apply to handheld computers only. Vehicle-mounted units are powered by the vehicle’s battery|
|INTERNAL COMPONENTS||Standard||Coated||Coating protects against moisture from condensation, which may cause short circuits & device failure. Desiccant packets (e.g. silica) also reduce moisture, but need to be changed.|