Voice picking user at Sinelco in Belgium using scanning to setup a cart for pickingI was struck dumb recently when a manufacturer of voice-picking hardware announced the industry’s first-ever voice and scanning solution. Lucas has been delivering applications combining voice and scanning for more than a decade – including some applications that were delivered using that hardware vendor’s previous-generation of voice-only hardware. On the one hand, I really have to applaud the audacity of their marketing team. On the other hand, I asked myself: “What will they think of next, a device with a scanner AND A SCREEN?”

People who run DCs are less concerned with who came up with any particular innovation than how that innovation can be used to improve their operations. With that in mind, late last year we did a little research into how DCs are actually using voice and scanning today. I haven’t seen any broad market surveys that have documented the prevalence of multi-modal usage in the warehouse, so what we found is pretty revealing. (For those of you interested in understanding the trends driving the growth of multi-modal, we published a white paper on the subject.)

At a basic level, our analysis shows 58 percent of Lucas Systems customers use scanning within their Jennifer voice-directed systems, some dating back as far back as 2003. When we look at customers that installed their systems since 2010, however, that percentage jumps to nearly 80 percent. In short, the use of voice and scanning together is not the exception, it is the rule. (As an aside, our survey also revealed that every customer is using their device display, but that’s a different subject for another blog.)

More importantly, we wanted to get an idea for what is driving multi-modal adoption. One might expect that the jump in scanning is tied to product traceability initiatives, but it appears that is only part of the story. Most DCs that are scanning within their voice application are scanning equipment or tote IDs to induct orders, set up picking carts, etc. That’s not to stay more people aren’t capturing serial data. In fact, the number of customers that are using scanning to capture item-level data (serial number, lot numbers, etc.) within their voice-directed processes has doubled, to 28 percent of all Lucas customers installed in the last three years.

So what conclusions can we make:

    1. Voice-and-scanning is nothing new.
    2. Given the option, eight out of ten DCs find value in scanning within their voice-directed processes.
    3. Anyone who makes a technology decision based on an either/or evaluation – “voice or RF” – is probably leaving money (operational improvements) on the table.

On a final note, it’s worth pointing out that every DC using Jennifer has the ability to use voice and scanning “out of the box.” Every one of our apps supports voice and scanning side-by-side, and interchangeably (where appropriate). So for our customers, the decision whether or not to scan is based wholly on the best tool for the job. Voice and scanning is available at no additional cost and using a standard so-called multi-modal mobile device (like the Motorola MC3190) will cost far less than using a specialized voice appliance.

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