Nearly half a century ago, barcodes were the revolutionary solution promising to bring massive improvements to the supply chain. And they did. But supply chains weren't nearly as complex as they are today, with online orders, multi-location warehouses, and the expectation of fast and error-free delivery.
Voice technology in the warehouse is the latest strategy offering various ways to optimize and improve the supply chain. In the past several years, voice devices have evolved into sophisticated solutions that offer distribution centers and logistics partners optimized solutions for managing inventory, fulfilling orders, and optimizing warehouse operations.
What Are Voice Control Systems in the Supply Chain?
Interactive voice systems aren't necessarily new. We've been talking to our smartphones (Siri, Cortana, etc.) and in-home devices for years, telling them where we want to go or asking simple questions. But technology has become more sophisticated in the past several years. Recent development now allows a driver to give instructions to a "self-driving vehicle." So, it's no surprise software systems and artificial intelligence (AI) are also making progress in the logistics space.
In fact, speech recognition software and voice-directed application have been in place in warehouses since the 1990s. But the explosive growth of eCommerce combined with the rising demands of consumers and supply chain complexity have necessitated something better. Today's voice technology is much more advanced. It features:
- Wireless headsets and microphones — Voice control systems once tethered workers to the WMS with wires. This is no longer the case. They are completely wireless through Bluetooth connectivity.
- Speech recognition and optimized sound — Modern voice control systems no longer require workers to complete lengthy voice training sessions. Most have 99% accuracy out of the box and can work with employees who have hearing impediments and workers who speak different languages.
- Software- and hardware-independent systems — Today's voice control systems are no longer tied to a particular warehouse management system (WMS). Most voice systems can be integrated with any major WMS.
- Fast implementation and low cost —- A voice control system in a warehouse or distribution center can be completely implemented in a short period. And workers only need a few hours of training to get completely up to speed on its operation. Compared to other automation solutions, voice control solutions are amazingly affordable.
Advantages of Voice Control Solutions
Voice-enabled solutions offer supply chain stakeholders a variety of advantages. Among them are:
1. Improved Productivity
Because voice control systems are eyes-free and hands-free, your workers need only focus on the one task being relayed to them. This translates to simpler processes, less fumbling with paperwork or other devices, and drastically improved productivity.
2. Better Accuracy
With fewer distractions and no devices to handle, employees get clear and simple-to-understand instructions through their headsets. This leads to better accuracy in all voice-enabled activities such as picking, packing, and put away.
3. Fast Implementation
It might seem like adopting a voice-enabled solution would be a major undertaking. For most businesses, this isn't the case. The implementation of these solutions, including training staff, can be accomplished quickly and easily.
4. Increased Safety
When you take other devices and other distractions away from the eyes and out of the hands of your workers, this results in fewer accidents and injuries. Specifically, voice technology is the ideal solution if you want to reduce or eliminate the risk of injury caused by distractions.
5. Multi-language Support
Supply chain workers represent many different cultures and speak a variety of languages. When English is a second language or challenging for your workers, it can impact productivity and even safety. But voice control solutions can speak to workers in many different languages and dialects, eliminating these issues.
6. More Satisfied Employees
Happier employees are more motivated and productive employees. When you use technology like voice control to streamline your supply chain, you reduce frustrations in the workplace and create more satisfied workers.
How Voice Control Can Optimize the Supply Chain
Voice control in warehouses and distribution centers is meant to make certain tasks easier. It won't necessarily replace your workers. But it will reduce the time it takes them to complete tasks, freeing them up for other work. It also reduces errors. Your savings in both respects can translate directly to your bottom-line results. Here are three ways you can apply voice control to optimize the supply chain.
1. Voice-Guided Warehousing
Voice picking is the most common use for voice technology in warehouses. This refers to a hands-free system using speech recognition software to provide workers with step-by-step instructions.
Your employee wears a wireless headset and microphone, which is connected to the warehouse management system via Bluetooth. The system assigns picking tasks to the worker and gives verbal instructions through the headset. The picker can get directions to the product location, such as aisle and shelf number. Once the task is complete, they will confirm this through the headset and move on to the next item.
2. Voice-Guided Worker Instruction
Onboarding and training workers is a time-consuming and costly task for warehouses, which are already busy environments. You can reduce the time required for this type of training by using voice-guided instruction.
Employees can go through training at a pace that works best for them and even repeat sections whenever necessary. Voice-guided instruction can also be done in other languages and is intuitive, meaning workers can stop and get answers to questions as they proceed.
3. Voice-Guided Asset Inspection, Maintenance, and Repairs
Warehouse machinery and assets require ongoing inspection, maintenance, and repairs to keep the operation moving smoothly. An unexpected outage can send negative ripples throughout the supply chain.
Workers equipped with voice-guided technology can quickly assess, maintain, and repair a piece of equipment. They can also receive reports and warnings when maintenance is due, or a certain reading is outside normal parameters.
With so many advantages over traditional approaches, voice control technology appears to be a tool that will become standard in many distribution centers, warehouses, and other supply chain operations. These solutions save time, reduce errors, cut costs, and improve both the customer and employee experience.