Updating FileMaker data with Zebra mobile devices

We were recently working on a project where we needed to verify order fulfillment and staging prior to pickup by the shipping carriers.

In most instances, we’d use FileMaker Go on an iPod Touch or iPad for mobile users, but this project required that we scan barcodes quickly for optimum performance.

As a proof of concept, we created a simple FileMaker Web Direct interface so that staff could scan boxes as they were packed, and before they were put onto a pallet. The Zebra TC20 is an Android 8.1 device that accesses Web Direct with it’s Chrome browser thru a wireless connection. The TC20 is ruggedized and features a built-in barode scanner which is perfect for use in a warehouse environment.

In the video below, you can see how this streamlined interface works. The user can choose from two scanning modes – one to verify packing and the other to mark which pallet the package is on awaiting pickup. We used just a single field for barcode scanning to reduce the overall complexity.

One option we considered was using FileMaker Go on an iPod Touch or iPad. We decided not to go this route for a variety of reasons:

  • Scanning barcodes is trickier with multiple appearing on the package. We wanted to reduce the chance of false-scans using the camera on the mobile device
  • External barcode scanners on iOS can be clunky to use. With the Zebra it’s one device to manage.
  • Using the the iPod Touch or iPad would require a ruggedized case
  • There’s greater chance of loss of device with an iPod Touch or iPad with seasonal staff
  • Using a iPod Touch sled like the Linea Pro adds considerable cost and requires the use of custom plugins along with the iOS App SDK.

Another alternative to using Web Direct is building a native web app that communicates with the FileMaker backend using the Data API to update order status.

Please contact our Sales Department for further information if you’d like help creating a mobile warehouse solution.

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Let’s look at a Claris Connect flow for Shopify Shipping

One of the features Claris touts is the ability to create UPS labels thru their Claris Connect product. While appropriate for some basic use cases, their workflow for performing shipping has some serious limitations. Let’s talk about the Claris Connect flow in this graphic.

The process of creating an order in FileMaker from Shopify makes sense if you have inventory already in FileMaker and would like to make sure you have proper quantities available, or you have need to have all orders inside FileMaker. However, if you were using Shopify and were doing basic shipping, it’s likely that you would already be using intergrated shipping inside of Shopify instead of some alternate solution like Claris Connect.

The remainder of the flow shown is incorrect. In order to create a label you need to know the weight of the box and package dimensions. Most often the ecommerce system will determine shipping rates based on product weight, but it doesn’t include things like packaging and dimensions which can increase cost. If you create a label with the wrong weight you’re going to incur additional surcharges down the line, after the customer has been charged for shipping.. Next, you would not create a label and then send an alert to order processing, as you’d process an order before shipping. Lastly, Claris Connect doesn’t have the ability to update a Shopify order which is criticial to completing order fulfillment.

There are also a number of deficiencies in Claris Connect and it’s connectors, for example:

  • UPS shipping in Claris Connect supports single packages only
  • UPS shipping in Claris Connect doesn’t support alternate origins for drop and blind shipping
  • UPS shipping in Claris Connect doesn’t allows for passing of a recipient phone number (for delivery issues)
  • UPS shipping in Claris Connect doesn’t support any special services like signature required, insured value or Carbon Neutral indicators
  • UPS shipping in Claris Connect only returns published rates
  • UPS shipping in Claris Connect requires package dimensions
  • UPS shipping in Claris Connect doesn’t support international documentation
  • UPS shipping in Claris Connect doesn’t support third-party billing
  • UPS shipping in Claris Connect doesn’t support QuantumView Notifications
  • Claris Connect cannot update the order status or track number in Shopify after shipment

NRGship UPS for FileMaker is the only carrier-certified solution that provides the complete suite of UPS shipping functionality including address validation, rating, shipping, tracking and pickup requests from FileMaker Pro with compatability with hardware your shipping department has like thermal printers and digital scales. We also offer solutions for FedEx, USPS and multi-carrier.

This is how we’d envision the correct flow with shipping from Shopify using FileMaker Pro:

  • FileMaker Pro connects to Shopify via API and downloads new orders [fmEcommerce Link (Shopify Edition) is a great option if you don’t want to code your own]
  • Orders are created in your FileMaker System
  • Pick slips are printed or displayed on an iPad for new orders
  • Picked orders are packaged
  • Shipping labels are created using NRGship integrated to the order system
  • After shipment, order status and tracking is updated in the order system and Shopify via API

NRG Software has performed numerous integrations with Shopify and other ecommerce solutions specific to workflow. NRGship itself has built-in Shopify integration so that you can seamlessly download orders into NRGship and perform order fulfillment. Please contact us if you’d like to discuss seamless order fulfillment from FileMaker Pro.

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NRGship is Compatible with FileMaker Pro v19.3

NRG Software is excited to announced that current builds of all NRGship solutions are compatible with the Claris FileMaker Pro v19.3 release that has been optimized for Apple silicon computers. Internal testing has not uncovered any issues. As with any upgrade, we suggest customers test their integration before upgrading production systems. Customers using NRG Ship Connect should email sales@nrgsoft.com for upgrade information.

More information on upgrading NRGship for FileMaker can be found here.

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Who uses serial scales?

I was recently on a west coast virtual meetup event and there was a discussion about plugins and someone chimed in asking “who uses serial scales?” (or something like that…) With 20+ years of experience working with Claris FileMaker Pro customers in a warehouse, it’s fairly common for us to interface with these devices.

First off, scales used on a shop floor are very industrial and expensive. The Mettler Toledo PS60 looks to be bomb-proof and costs over $500. While current PS60’s have a USB interface, older models rely on the trusty serial protocol. We recently did a shipping integration where a customer had a flashy new dimensionalizer (that cost thousands of dollars) with a serial interface.

Mettler Toledo PS60

Talking to Serial Scales from FileMaker Pro

Interfacing with a serial scale from FileMaker Pro is easiest with a plugin like MBS or Troi Serial. Both work equally well for this use case. In the scripts below we go thru a simple process – we open a serial port, we then send some data to the device (based on device spec, some require a CR/LF or some other characters), then we receive a response back. Some scales return fractional values so we then apply a modifier as needed to get a proper weight in pounds.

Capturing the weight with MBS
Capturing the weight with Troi Serial

Note that on the Mac, you need to have an adapter for a serial scale. The preferred Tripp-Lite/Keyspan USA19-HS adapter requires drivers which will not work with macOS Big Sur. There are some serial to Bluetooth adapters which will provide connectivity for macOS.

The Keyspan USA19-HS Adapter

But what if you don’t like plugins? If you’re in the mood for a science project, you could build a microservice with a Raspberry Pi that communicates with a serial or USB scale, but then exposes it to FileMaker thru CURL. But why waste time when using a plugin is so simple?

If you don’t like science, another alternative is PrintNode, a paid service that installs on your desktop and provides an interface to scales (and printers) thru HTTP requests. PrintNode requires a bit of setup and configuration but is very powerul. One benefit of PrintNode is you can then capture weights using your app with FileMaker Go or FileMaker WebDirect. This opens a whole new world to mobile warehousing.

Alternatives to Serial Scales

Some USB scales are simply serial devices with a USB adapter. When you look at them from the operating system, they require a driver and show as a COM port or some variant. Other USB scales act as HID devices and require special applications to communicate with them using a USB vendor and product ID. We’ve found that dimensionalizers have the ability to communicate over IP using simple HTTP requests.

NRGship solutions for FileMaker have the ability to communicate with scales using serial, HID, PrintNode or IP. NRGship allows you to quickly integrate UPS, FedEx, USPS and LTL validation, rating and shipping into your app.

Please contact our Sales Department for further information if you need help communicating with scales from your own FileMaker Pro app.

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Here’s how to get high quality output with thermal printers and FileMaker Pro

Thermal printers like the Zebra GX420d have a command language called Zebra Programming Language (ZPL) which should always be used to provide the highest quality output. While you can print other data to these devices, the quality is severly degraded because it’s essentially printing an image which gets converted to a black and white 200 dpi image. For example, if you were printing a barcode you may incur scanability issues, but it also looks unprofessional due to pixelation. While it’s not hard to create ZPL code, the free FileMaker FM ZPL Helper tool can be used to create templates for thermal labels with ease using a subset of the print language. Once you have the ZPL code, it can be sent to networked Zebra printers very easily. NRG Software provides helper applications for printing to USB connected printers without the need for third party drivers.

Product Labels

We created a UPC label on 2.5×1.25″ label stock as this would be a common type of label to print from FileMaker. The label on the left was printed with ZPL while the label on the right was printed from a FileMaker layout containing text and a container with a barcode image using the macOS driver. The barcode and small text on the right is highly pixelated and is not of the quality you’d want to place on product. One other issue is Page Setup. We’ve found that you need to create the actual label layout smaller than the actual label which leads to wasted space. If you make the layout the actual size with zero margins and keep Page Setup to match the label size you will get blank labels in-between as shown below.

Here is the ZPL code for our SKU label:

^XA^FO0,30^AS,50,^FB800,1,,C,^FDProduct Name^FS
^FO530,90^AS,50,^FB100,4,,C,^FDColor Info $Price^FS
^FO210,90^BY3,,100^BC,100,Y,,,A^FD799033162358^FS^XZ

Once we have the ZPL code, we can do a simple HTTP POST using Insert From URL to output to the Zebra printer as shown in the script below. This simple script can be utilized for printing from FileMaker Pro, FileMaker Go, FileMaker Server or even Web Direct so as long as they are on the same network.

Note that the HTTP POST method above only works with newer networked Zebra printers. Older Zebra printers, Zebra-compatible (ZPL) or those with USB connections require more complex scripting. Printers like the Rollo are compatible with Zebra label rolls but cannot print ZPL code.

Shipping Labels

In this example, the label on the left was created by NRGship UPS for FileMaker using ZPL while the image on the right is a GIF image printed directly to the device thru the OS driver. All of the barcodes are pixelated, which can lead to re-labeling by shipping carriers. Another benefit of Zebra printers for shipping labels is free label stock – both UPS and FedEx provide free labels, whereas proprietary label stock for Dymo printers can be costly.

If you need help printing labels to thermal printers from FileMaker Pro, please contact our Sales Department for further information. We can provide great insight into desktop and portable Zebra printers, label design, and more.

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