Thanks to wireless technology, mobile powered workstations (MPWs) are opening up new frontiers of efficiency, productivity, and profitability. These carts with integrated power supplies carry computers, scanners, and printers of all kinds, reducing foot travel and paperwork wherever they go. 

Capitalizing on the benefits of auto-ID technologies, MPWs integrate a facility’s software with wireless devices to establish mobile label-printing stations, mobile shipping/receiving stations, and so on.

In many enterprises, countless hours are wasted as employees walk back and forth, chatting with co-workers en route, between sites where work is taking place (loading docks, storage racks, assembly lines, inspection/testing areas, etc.) and a deskbound computer and printer where they log information into a database, print labels/orders, etc. Often, these employees are merely keying in data they have previously written on paper at the work site — a classic redundancy of effort. Or worse, they just rely on their memory, which leads to mistakes. In contrast, an employee operating an MPW has continual, paperless, real-time access to information via warehouse management systems (WMS), enterprise resource planning (ERP), or automated data collection (ADC) software from anywhere in the facility.

“With real-time data transmission, warehouse and distribution management can make better business decisions and adjustments based on immediate data received from the floor,” says Julie Leonard, marketing director for BarCode ID Systems, systems-integration experts who design and install comprehensive automated data collection/management systems.

Because an MPW can carry a computer and relatively heavy peripherals (such as a high-volume label printer) and can supply them all with adequate on-board power, it is more versatile than a handheld scanner or thermal printer. If you already own the computers that the carts will carry, it is also less expensive than converting to handhelds, according to Leonard.

An “on-demand” high-volume label printing/PC station saves time and labor because it enables the use of thermal transfer labels, large labels, more than one type of label, a full computer screen to toggle between different software programs, and more. In essence, you have a fully functioning packaging/labeling/processing/inspection station that can be moved to wherever it is needed. Although a large facility might need more than one, a single MPW can often do the job of two or three stationary desks, which means fewer computers and peripherals will be needed overall. For example, a workstation can be used all morning at a receiving dock and then wheeled to the shipping department for the afternoon.
In warehousing/distribution, an MPW can increase the number of items processed per day by facilitating receiving, packaging, shipping, put-away, order picking, inspection, cross-docking, inventory management, etc. With such streamlined operations comes improved accuracy, in part because stock-keeping units (SKUs) can be identified with barcode scanners and immediately entered into or checked against the facility’s database.

In a receiving department, for example, the MPW operator can quickly scan barcodes to indentify an incoming shipment and then inspect, re-label, and re-route it, all at the same workstation. 

In shipping, accuracy improves when the operator can quickly scan outgoing shipments to verify that the order is correct and scheduled for the proper shipping method. For break-bulk and mixed-unit orders, MPWs allow fast, on-site printing of labels, packing slips, delivery receipts, refund receipts, etc. The operator can track previously shipped parcels and keep track of multiple SKUs. He or she can even take and file digital photos to provide proof of the condition of a returned shipment and then credit the customer immediately.

MPWs in Action
Shipping accuracy was a major concern at the Magneti Marelli Powertrain USA plant in North Carolina. Management was determined to reduce the number of mislabeled outgoing pallets loaded with fuel-pump modules, electronic throttles, and other component systems bound for automakers, boat builders, and other customers. A typical shipment consisted of multiple pallets, each of which required at least two labels. The weak point in the shipping department turned out to be the 30-40 steps each inspector would have to take to the label printer. Sometimes, after an inspector had retraced his/her steps, labels in hand, the labels would end up on the wrong pallets. The number of errors was significantly reduced once the company purchased MPWs. Now, every inspector can scan and print labels right beside the pallet that needs them. Thanks to swivel casters, the workstation can be easily maneuvered to the next pallet in seconds.

For put-away, SKUs can be easily barcode-labeled/re-labeled as they are put on shelves, which can also be labeled. That way, when the time comes to pick the item, it is more likely to be where it is supposed to be. And then there is directed picking — coordinated picking for multiple orders. When you and the MPW are on a particular aisle, the system’s software can tell you what other items are needed from that sector of the warehouse.

Inspection is another use of an MPW. In a manufacturing plant, for example, parts in storage can be labeled, tracked, and picked as above when needed for assembly, but finished products can also be inspected and labeled easily. The facility’s database can include the date each product was inspected and the name of the inspector. Some systems require inspectors to log in with indentifying passwords, while others have them scan their badges, for example.

Choosing the Right One
Obviously, different needs require different MPW configurations, so shop around until you find the model that fits your facility. Some basic attributes, such as sturdiness and durability, trump other characteristics, but the best MPWs are also ergonomic. For starters, the one you choose should have adjustable shelves and large, stable work surfaces. Some units allow the shelves to be easily raised and lowered, and some do not. A tall employee should be able to quickly raise a shelf to the most convenient height, and a shorter worker on the next shift should be able to lower it just as quickly. Casters should provide years of smooth, quiet rolling and positioning, yet must be lockable for stability and safety at the work site.
The more your workstation can do, the more your business can accomplish, in ways you might not yet envision. That’s why you’ll want your new MPW to be versatile. Check the weight capacity of individual shelves and of the unit overall. For maneuverability in narrow warehouse aisles, a small “footprint” is important. The cart you buy should definitely be powerful enough to run various devices simultaneously — look for one that can hold and power four devices for at least eight hours and can be recharged in five to eight hours. 

Choosing the best MPW power package for your business can be difficult on your own. Some manufacturers (and intermediaries such as BarCode ID Systems) have technicians who will make sure your package is fully integrated with the cart and the devices you intend to run. Some even have software tools on their websites that help the customer choose the most appropriate power package by calculating the total wattage of the equipment to be supported.

Christine Wheeler is Marketing Director for Newcastle Systems. You can contact her at 781.935.3450, 978.777.1803 (fax),, or visit for more information.