Some still feature outdated mechanical keyboards that are completely inadequate for the industrial environment. Typical warehouse functions require the same key to be pressed over and over again, resulting in broken and worn-out keys, which are expensive and time consuming to maintain and replace. Modern user interface design can put that keyboard functionality directly onto the terminal’s touch screen using a virtual keyboard, increasing employee productivity, efficiency, user acceptance and accuracy.
A virtual keyboard is part of a terminal’s graphical user interface (GUI), and allows areas of the touch screen to perform the job of a mechanical keyboard, only much more efficiently. Almost all consumers are familiar with this concept as it applies to smartphones and tablets, where a virtual QWERTY keyboard pops up when required for typing, prompted by the application that requires it. The same concept can be applied to rugged and industrial touch screen computers, saving the space a mechanical keyboard would have taken up as the screen is now both the display and the keyboard.
Customisation of a virtual keyboard is where the big improvements in productivity and efficiency are made. Unlike a mechanical keyboard, a virtual keyboard is completely flexible and can be made to display only a certain selection of the most-used keys. For example, consider a logistics/warehouse worker who spends 97 percent of their time scanning numbers and entering quantities. If a label doesn’t scan, they enter the numbers by hand. They don’t need the letters, the F1-F12 keys, the arrows, etc. A virtual keyboard can be created which pops up when required, but only displays the numbers 0-9. Any keys not required are eliminated, and the remaining keys can be increased in size to make them easier to find, while being positioned such that the application is still visible.
Virtual keyboards can be extensively customised to suit any warehouse job. They can be made vertical, horizontal or even diagonal, as the application demands. They can have dim or bright, transparent or opaque keys. They can have large keys, perhaps for easier use with a gloved hand in a cold storage facility. They can display larger fonts, perhaps to accommodate an aging workforce. Imagine the time saved by not having to remove and replace gloves or reading glasses every time a key is pressed.
It’s even possible to create single keys that will type a defined instruction, perhaps a word or sentence that is typed over and over again, spelled correctly every time in a single keystroke. It’s possible to reduce the number of keystrokes required dramatically using this technique, increasing productivity and efficiency when tasks are performed many times over. In fact, keys can be made into macros for any kind of function, to launch programs, bring applications into focus, rotating screens, and much more. The flexibility of having a full keyboard available is not lost, since a key can be created that brings up the full keyboard as and when required.
Let’s say an auto repair shop has a 10-inch rugged tablet mounted on a forklift that is used for picking tyres from a warehouse. The elimination of a mechanical keyboard increases the driver’s field of view from the cab, improving safety. An optimised virtual keyboard, displayed on the right hand side of the tablet’s screen, shows keys labelled with the tyre brands that the repair shop stocks. In one keystroke, the driver can bring up the locations of warehouse bins that contain that brand of tyre. The virtual keyboard might change to display particular tyre models for that brand; another keystroke, and the exact bin number is found. The number of keystrokes required to perform this task has been reduced from around twenty to just two. Productivity and efficiency are improved and more vehicles can be run through the auto repair shop as a result.
An interesting side effect of optimising a keyboard to its specific function is improved accuracy of the data that’s being entered. Operating a warehouse efficiently relies on accurate data. A customised keyboard reduces the amount of manual data entry required, reducing the amount of errors, such as spelling mistakes. that make it into your computer system. What can you do with more accurate data? Reduce the chances of miss-picks, reduce time wasted correcting errors and locating missing pallets . . . the sky’s the limit.
The crucial thing is that the virtual keyboard is correctly optimised for the job at hand. This requires careful observation of users at work, an understanding of the capabilities of virtual keyboards, and user acceptance testing to make sure it’s doing its job. It may sound like a long process, but depending on the application, it can typically be done in a few hours to a few days. This is much quicker than the weeks or months required to design and make a customised mechanical keyboard.
Provided it’s optimised correctly, a modern user interface including a virtual keyboard will also vastly improve user acceptance of the technology. No more slowly searching on a computer keyboard for the right key. It’s right there in front of you. No more correcting incorrectly scanned barcodes by looking down at the keyboard, then back up at the screen, then back down again for every character entered. It’s right next to where you’re already looking. No wonder it’s so popular with users; their jobs become easier and tasks become quicker and less frustrating.
Ultimately, the productivity and efficiency of a warehouse’s workforce can be dramatically improved by designing a modern computer terminal UI with a customised, optimised virtual keyboard that works in sync with the relevant software applications to ensure quicker and more accurate data entry. This simple but powerful concept can also increase user acceptance by easing frustrations associated with older technologies such as mechanical keyboards. All of these factors result in time savings, streamlined processes and profit-boosting efficiencies.
Source: JLT Mobile Computers
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