There have been about 3.5 million MC9000 devices sold since the popular inventory tools' inception in 2003, their pistol-grip handles held tightly by logistics and manufacturing workers everywhere to scan barcodes in warehouses and plants all over the globe and keep track of inventory.
"The MC9000 is a staple in any warehouse," says Mike Petersen, Zebra's head of global product and solutions marketing. "It's a little bit like seeing a Ford F-150 on a construction site, it's the go-to product."
Being the go-to product for almost two decades is certainly not a bad thing, but a computerized tool that old faces a new challenge. Plants and warehouses are right in the thick of the digital transformation and there's no turning back. The bosses want more data and control, so everything is slowly transforming: clipboards turning into tablets, pallet carts and forklifts yielding to smart AGVs, and humans relinquishing palletizing duty to robots.
High-tech tools loaded with sensors obviously give better insights as to how the plant is operating and how healthy it is, and thus, if it will survive global competition and massive fulfillment centers. That at some point will most likely mean much more automation, such as mobile robots and drones, doing the scanning, and many fewer workers. But transformations on this level don’t happen overnight. It's a gradual process.
Zebra's recent 2024 Warehouse Visioning Study found that more than three in four organizations surveyed acknowledge that they are "slow to implement" the necessary new devices and technologies to remain competitive. And by 2024, three in five still expect to rely on partial automation and tech-augmented humans, while 27% plan on full-blown automation.
A lot can change by then, of course, but the signs are pointing to people still being a valued asset, with 77% of companies agreeing that augmenting their labor with tech and devices is the best way to transition to automation.
So there needs to be a bridge from here to the future, and Zebra believes for many logistical applications that can be the MC9300. At first glance, the new device could easily be confused with the best-selling MC9000 or MC9200 that followed, due to the pistol-grip and near-identical keyboard. But it is the first in the line to exclusively run on an Android operating system, ensuring the device will stay relevant as businesses make the switch from Windows. That Zebra study also found 83% of warehouses will implement Android by 2024.
It also runs a lot faster and longer, too. Powered by an 8-core processor, the ultra-rugged MC9300 has eight times the RAM and 16 times the Flash memory of the MC9200, and nearly twice the battery life. And because of algorithms are "baked right into the processor," Petersen says the MC9300 can identify every bar code out there in milliseconds, facilitating faster scans and higher productivity. It has different imaging engine options for standard, omnidirectional, direct part marking, and extended range.
The 1.6-lb. digital tool also can be used as a walkie-talkie, has a 4.3-in. Corning Gorilla Glass touchscreen, and comes with a front 5-mp camera (and optional 13-mp rear), so it's not much different than the typical smartphones workers have in their pockets already. More than 20 new features have been added, from improving ergonomics to data capture.
When making a tool smarter, though, Petersen, who came to the company in 2014 when Zebra acquired Motorola Solutions Enterprise, is quick to point out you could end up taking three steps forward and then two back by making it more difficult to use. The Ford F-150 has undergone its own changes and advances, Petersen notes, but you still step into and drive them the same way. So the user experience, chiefly in regards to comfort and operability, were at the heart of the MC9000 Series transformation.
As such, the computer feels the same and can still work with the end-of-lifed Windows OS to input into Terminal Emulation apps with the keyboard. When the company switches from the green screen and old warehouse management systems to touch screens and AI-powered apps, you don’t have to learn a new device. If a plant wants to augment workers even more with smartglasses or a ring scanner, the MC9300 would still act as the brains of the operation and feed into the Mobility DNA enterprise mobility software.
Zebra's LifeGuard for Android solution, available with a Zebra OneCare active contract, ensures cybersecurity updates are pushed to the device while also still supporting the legacy OS so enterprises can migrate when they feel comfortable.
"It really is a blend of the latest and greatest technology that still allows operators to take advantage of their old legacy stuff and not forcing them into a much bigger change," Petersen says.