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IDC has launched a Zigbee wireless-based solution for retail, medical and manufacturing companies requiring a low-cost inventory-stores management system.

According to the company, the system provides a wireless-enabled alternative to expensive Windows CE handheld terminals, which use Wi-Fi networks.

Requiring only a PC for its implementation, the IDC solution comprises a ZB111 barcode reader, a ZB104 Ethernet wireless gateway, a hosted server and all software.

The system is scalable and extensible from simple web-based applications to multifunctional site-wide logistics operations, with options to lease or buy.

IDC’s new system is based upon its flagship ZB wireless product range.

The company provides feasibility studies to identify return on investment, pilot project proof of concept and full system roll-out with ongoing support.

Kevin Buckley, managing director of IDC, said: ‘Historically, handheld terminal manufacturers have tried a catch-all approach in their product design by including every imaginable feature to meet all possible applications, such as full qwerty keyboard, touch screen, colour graphics and Windows mobile software.

‘This is overkill, when often the requirement is simply to scan a barcode and confirm the contents of the carton or item it is applied to.

‘Moreover, the handhelds operate over Wi-Fi, which is designed for a high bandwidth and has relatively high power requirements.

‘This, together with all the extra features on the device, creates a higher power demand on the battery, further increasing the cost and weight of the unit,’ he added.

According to Buckley, IDC’s approach has been to take the complexity out of the handheld unit and transfer it to the central server using a low-power wireless mesh networking infrastructure, resulting in a lower-cost device that is lighter and easier to use.

He continued: ‘In addition to reducing the cost of handheld devices, we have also addressed the problem of Wi-Fi being expensive to install in warehousing and logistics systems.

‘Wi-Fi networks usually require a radio-frequency [RF] site survey costing several thousand pounds, even for a medium-size installation, before any equipment is installed.

‘Then the access points cannot route data, so the network is not easily extendable.

‘In contrast, our Zigbee network has a single gateway and low-cost routers, which, in addition to talking to end devices [the barcode reader], also route data to other routers and also onto the gateway.

‘This enables the wireless network to not only be easily extended, but also increases the robustness of the network by re-routing data in the event of a single node failure.

‘In addition, most devices on a Wi-Fi network are IP addressable, which increases the risk of network security breaches.

‘However, on a Zigbee network, only the gateway has an IP address,’ said Buckley.

The central device in IDC’s system, the ZB111 barcode reader, is designed to interact with a central server, where most of the system intelligence is housed.

For larger warehouses, the barcode reader is used in conjunction with an overhead screen to maximise visibility.

The overhead screen also offers an advantage in that that it is much easier to see and interact with than small LCD displays.

The reading of a barcode will automatically put the details on the screen and transmit the data to the server.

The server will then respond with a validation of prompts on the overhead flat screen or on the LCD of the ZB111.

Buckley added: ‘For as little as GBP5,000 per annum, we can supply all types and sizes of organisations with maximum visibility of their operations in real time.

‘Moreover, with our leasing facility, we can ensure that, as organisations grow or their requirements change, we can evolve the inventory-stores management system in line with the new requirements quickly and without disruption to ongoing operations,’ he said.

IDC’s ZB range of Zigbee modules includes Ethernet and serial gateways, routers, microcontrollers and handheld devices, providing a single source for complete wireless solutions.

These range from simple cable elimination to large-scale, site-wide telemetry systems in a distributed control system architecture.

All of the modules offer a 64-bit MAC identifier, embedded intelligence, battery management and low power consumption.

To support the development and integration of the product range, the company has developed client-server applications, which include the ZBServer for web services integration, over-the-air programming, data logging and OPC connectivity for Scada integration.

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