Voice Technology in Warehousing: Worth the Investment?

Posted by Advanced Mobile Group on Jul 5, 2017 3:08:22 PM

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As demand continues to increase for improved and more streamlined manufacturing and warehouse procedures, it seems like technology is developing at a record rate to close any gaps in operations. One such option that’s been growing in popularity recently is voice command technology, which is being utilized as a means to improve accuracy with picking.

But is this the wave of the future, or is it just a fad? We’re going to dive deeper into the world of voice picking and see what kind of impact it has on the warehouse floor, as well as if it’s a viable solution to the myriad of problems that most companies face. 

What is Voice Picking?

The way that this technology works is that it is similar to a two-way radio, although the information passing back and forth between users is automatically entered into a warehouse management system (WMS). On the picking side, an employee is instructed on what items to pick, and then he or she verbally confirms each command as it happens. The critical aspect of this is that the voice data is then translated and entered into the system, thereby eliminating the need for manual entry.

Benefits of Voice Tech

So, with that process in mind, what are the real-world applications of using voice picking technology? Why are so many companies going crazy for it? Well, it turns out that there are a lot of reasons to adopt this strategy as it can greatly improve your bottom line. Here are a few highlights that you can expect from voice picking.

Reduced Error

No matter how efficient your system is, everyone makes mistakes from time to time. Even with additional redundancies such as scanners and RFID tags, items can get misplaced or mis picked without any hesitation. As a result, many businesses wind up losing thousands of dollars per year. With voice picking, however, because the process is done step by step, with verbal confirmation of each pick, accuracy can be increased to as high as 99.9%.

Reduced Downtime

One of the biggest time sucks on the floor is when employees have to get printouts from one station, do their pick, and then enter the information into another station when it’s all done. This manual entry is the cause of many delays, as well as errors. By using voice technology, this vastly streamlines the process as the information is delivered and entered immediately, saving the need for any paperwork to exchange hands or be used on the floor. Overall, you can increase productivity by 15% or more. 

Adaptive Technology

What happens if the order changes while the employee is picking it? How can you make sure that everyone is as up-to-date as possible so that there is no miscommunication between people and departments? This used to be a significant issue for companies, but not anymore with this technology. This way, if an item is missing, for example, the employee can notify the manager immediately. Then, if it’s showing that the item should be there, they can either track it down right away or figure out what went wrong before moving on.

Similarly, if something changes and the order needs to be adapted on the fly, managers can update employees in real time so that they can replace unneeded stock and pick according to the new sheet. In the end, you can reduce communication errors almost entirely.

Improved Safety

Carrying around scanners and multiple devices means that pickers have their hands full at all times. This can also mean that they are distracted on the floor, which can sometimes lead to disaster. With this technology, because the picker has both hands free and doesn’t have to look at a sheet of paper or a tablet, he or she is much more aware of the surroundings and will have a much lower chance of getting into an accident.

Challenges of Voice Technology

As you can see, there is a lot of potential with implementing such a system into your warehouse. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s always going to be a walk in the park. Here are some ways that voice picking can go wrong.

Bad Connection

Depending on your setup, you may not have a strong enough network for pickers and managers to talk effectively on every part of the floor. As a result, you may have to upgrade your current system, which can be both pricey and time-consuming.

Lost in Translation

If you have people who are speaking different languages on the floor, then it can be hard to understand one another when trying to verbally instruct them in a task. As such, there may be a learning curve to implementing voice technology, or you might have to invest in headsets that can translate into multiple languages.

Noise Levels

Sometimes the floor can be a loud place, which makes it hard to focus or understand what someone is saying on a headset. Thus, if your warehouse has too much background noise, then you have to figure out a way to reduce it so that your commands can get through. Also, if you have multiple pickers working in the same area, their voices may overlap with each other, which can further create noise. 

Bottom Line

Overall, it seems like voice picking is certainly a viable option for improving warehouse operations. As the technology improves, it will only become more mainstream as the costs of implementing such a system become cheaper and more widely available. Currently, the majority of European companies are starting to use such programs, with many more in development. So, as it stands, we are going to be looking at a future where verbal commands reign supreme. 

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