Many of us are just getting used to asking our smartphones for directions or coming to terms with Alexa being a fixture in the home. Voice recognition technology has been around for several decades and is making people’s lives easier and more enjoyable. But, what about in the workplace? And, particularly, in the warehouse environment?
Believe it or not, voice technology has been a fixture in some warehouses for about two decades. But, similar to those flip phones, what was considered high-tech voice technology in the 90s looks much different today. Here are some of the ways voice technology can benefit your warehouse and a list of the ways you can apply it to your operations.
What is Voice Technology?
Voice technology is just what it sounds like. It’s the use of voice-directed and speech recognition systems in warehouse and distributions centers. If you’ve ever spoken to your smartphone, laptop, or GPS device, instead of using a keyboard or touchpad to perform an operation, you’ve used voice technology.
Workers will generally wear a wireless headset in the warehouse that is connected to the warehouse management system. The voice technology will allow them to perform certain tasks, keeping their hands free to do other work.
How Voice Technology Benefits Your Warehouse
When the global pandemic hit at the end of 2019, e-commerce growth skyrocketed. Not only are companies facing unprecedented labor shortages, but also record demand for online products. It’s a strange and challenging situation for warehouse and distribution centers that are trying to fulfill obligations and deliver a positive customer experience.
Beyond this, many of these companies are trying to attract new talent. And that’s tough to do if your working environment is considered unattractive. Fortunately, many of the benefits of voice technology help warehouse operators address these very challenges.
Improve Warehouse Productivity, Accuracy, and Efficiency
If you operate a warehouse, you know that it can be rife with inefficiencies. Whether due to outdated technology, staffing issues, or poor processes, these problems can cost your business time and money as well as damage your reputation.
You can address many challenges in a warehouse by integrating a warehouse management system (WMS) with voice technology. This will enable workers to complete many tasks using voice recognition, keeping their hands free at the same time.
Make Warehouse Work More Attractive
Warehouse work is challenging. Workers can walk 10 or more miles in a day in extreme temperature environments and be asked to lift, push, pull, and do other repetitive tasks. Warehouses are also noisy environments, which can be stressful for some workers.
Voice-enabled systems can reduce the need for so much travel within the warehouse because it makes work more efficient. Workers can find items quicker and even print labels on the spot. Many headsets also include noise-suppression technology to give workers a better experience.
If you are facing a warehouse labor shortage, offering voice-enabled capability makes these positions more attractive.
Reduce Warehouse Labor Requirements
Maybe your business would like to reduce its labor costs. First, you can improve the productivity and efficiency of your current workforce by using voice technology. Second, you can reduce the amount of labor you’ll need to complete the same tasks.
Choose an Affordable Workplace Automation Tool
You probably hear plenty of talk about upgrading your warehouse with robotics and various logistical improvements that require a significant capital investment. If that’s not feasible for your business, you can invest in voice-enabled solutions, which are much more affordable to implement.
4 Ways to Apply Voice Technology to Your Warehouse
There’s a common misconception that warehouses using voice technology integrate it into every system, where workers just stand around talking into headsets all day. Sure, you can do this, but it’s not the norm.
Voice can support many functions within a warehouse environment. But most companies choose the ones that are going to give them the greatest benefits. If it integrates with your existing warehouse management system, even better. Here are some of the ways you can apply voice technology in your warehouse.
1. Voice-Directed Warehousing
Voice technology got its start in the warehouse with voice-directed warehousing. Another name for this is “Voice Picking.” Voice picking is an eyes-free and hands-free system that uses speech recognition software and an intelligent voice agent to direct workers through their tasks.
Voice pickers wear headsets connected to a mobile warehouse management system. The system creates tasks or work assignments for the pickers on the warehouse floor, giving them specific directions. The picker confirms the instructions through the headset. When a task is complete, the system assigns the next one.
Voice picking is just one example of voice-directed warehousing. Voice technology can similarly be used to direct shipping and receiving, maintenance and repairs, and inventory replenishment.
2. Voice-Guided Instructions for Workers
You can drastically reduce employee training time by providing voice-guided instruction to your new and existing staff. This type of instruction can be used for onboarding as well as continuing training and cross-training.
Using this type of training has several advantages. It can be offered in a variety of languages, which is a benefit for non-native speakers who may not want to admit that they have comprehension issues. It is also readily accessible, meaning a worker can go back to the training to ask questions or get a refresh if they forget information.
3. Collect and Analyze Warehouse Data
Voice systems are also generally integrated with a warehouse management system, giving leadership access to valuable documentation and analytics. This is ideal for improving warehouse operations by optimizing productivity. Some of the ways your warehouse can leverage this data include:
- Monitor inventory movement in real-time
- Continuously improve processes by identifying bottlenecks or workers in need of additional training
- Use analytics to make better business decisions
4. Equipment Repairs, Maintenance, and Inspection
Warehouses have a ton of moving parts, many of which need frequent repairs, maintenance, and inspection. Technicians can be equipped with voice technology in place of checklists and printed manuals to direct their activities.
These voice-directed workflows can guide a worker through a step-by-step diagnosis, repair, or maintenance task. Once complete, the system can be updated to create a reminder for the next task on the schedule.
Voice technology is an ideal solution for warehouse and distribution centers that are searching for ways to increase efficiency and control costs. Adopting voice technology can help ease some burdens as many warehouses struggle with labor shortages and peak season is approaching.