Wordery Uses the Raspberry Pi for Book-Wrangling

Among the mass of technologically advanced stuff done with the popular single board computers, the Raspberry Pi (RBPi) has also been helping booksellers. At Wordery, an online bookshop, Jeff Podolski, an IT and network technician, is using the RBPi at their warehouse.

Wordery has over 10 million book titles in their list, including several on RBPi. Over the last few years, they have been working on improving their productivity and customer service drive. For their sorting and distribution operation, they have taken up a greater automation. This is allowing them to track packed items and offer interactive feedback to their staff. For this, they needed PCs on the desks they use for packing and mailing. However, a PC with a screen and barcode scanner would take up considerable space on the desk and consume a lot of power. Therefore, their IT team had the brainwave of using RBPis instead.

Jeff and his team conducted initial tests using an RBPi and a standard PC. They settled on using a setup with the 7-inch official LCD screen and case for the RBPi, and used a USB barcode scanner. This setup saved more than four-fifths of the space a PC would have used up on the desk, while using substantially less power.

However, an RBPi with screen and scanner, left unsecured on the desk, was likely to be knocked and bumped by items being packed and possibly smashed on the warehouse floor. This led Jeff to use a tablet-mounting arm, originally designed for wheelchairs. He clamped the arm to a table, and attached a backboard to the bracket meant to hold the tablet.

Making use of the rear mounting screw holes, Jeff was able to attach the RBPi and screen to the bracket. By routing and tidying the cable layout, Jeff and his team had a low power, small, easily movable interactive terminal, which all the staff in the warehouse could use.

The success of the project led to an installation of over 40 of these terminals in the warehouse, with benefits clearly visible. The warehouse has since processed record volumes using the terminals. They have improved on the previous year’s performance by 11%. Since they set up the RBPi terminals, the warehouse has been handling additional volumes, and packing productivity has increased by 30%. According to Jeff, the resounding success of the RBPi terminals has encouraged their use elsewhere in the building also, further reducing their equipment costs and power consumption.

With the RBPi community and the team at ModMyPi helping with the sourcing of the kit and cables in large volumes, Jeff’s team did a great job of modifying the tablet arm to make it fit another purpose. The RBPi Thin Client Project made the simple configurable thin client for project, while Martin Kirst helped to make the terminal emulator screens more readable and added new functionality to the units. By making the interaction wireless, the terminals can be moved to places where they are currently needed.

This project proves the RBPi can be used for making automation cheaper, more accessible, and much more flexible in an industrial setting.