What are the Benefits of Voice-Directed Picking?
Compared to traditional warehouse order picking processes using paper or barcode scanning, a voice-directed picking system creates a hands-free, heads-up user workflow. Rather than stopping to read, scan, write or punch keys, users listen and speak in a fluid, efficient cadence.
This results in dramatic, direct pay-offs:
- Reduce Errors: Even DCs with 99.99% picking accuracy before voice can reduce picking errors by 25% or more with voice picking.
- Decrease Training Time: Voice-directed processes are more intuitive for users. Most Lucas customers find that a new associate can be trained and begin going solo in less than a day, and become proficient in one to two weeks.
Ultimately, there are many benefits to a voice-directed solution compared to other semi-automated picking systems. To learn more about how voice compares to pick-to-light systems, RF barcode scanning and automation systems, read our recent post “How Voice Compares”.
What Processes Can Be Optimized With Voice?
Voice applications now help automate any manual, hands-on process in the warehouse. For example, receiving, put away, replenishment, cycle count, sortation, packing, cross-dock, loading, etc.
- Pallet Picking: Full pallet picking, for outbound shipping, can be interleaved with other full pallet moves (cross-docking, replenishment, putaway) to reduce so-called empty travel (when a lift truck is moving from one area to another with nothing on the forks).
- Case Picking: Popular voice picking workflows include case pick to pallet or to conveyor. Although voice picking typically eliminates the need for labels, voice systems can be used alongside labels if that is needed for delivery or other purposes. Some systems also also support two-stage picking processes for slow-moving cases (sometimes referred to as PIR picking – planned inventory reserved).
- Putaway: Voice-directed putaway can be used for full pallets, mixed pallets (multiple SKUs putaway in separate storage locations), or using carts with mixed SKUs. Barcode scanning is commonly incorporated in the voice-directed workflow, to identify/verify items for putaway.
- Packing & Consolidation: Warehouses that do not have automated sortation systems can use voice to assemble multi-line orders that have been picked in multiple zones or batches. Barcode scanning can be incorporated to identify/verify items. Items may be sorted to locations in a put wall.
- Replenishment & Short Filling: Replenishment can be implemented for moving full pallets or mixed pallets from reserve or bulk storage to forward picking locations. In some instances, replenishment can be included in picking workflows or interleaved with other tasks.
- Truck Loading & Shipping: Warehouses using voice for loading are typically loading pallets for route-stop delivery. Alternatives include system- or user-directed loading, and may include safety and other inspection steps (HACCP, for example). Systems may also support creation of a printed or electronic load map to improve delivery.
- Cross Docking: various types of cross dock processes may be supported, including full transfers from receiving to shipping, or moving and sorting to outbound staging destinations.
- Cycle Count: In some instances, cycle count can be included in picking or other workflows, or it can be a separate task. Jennifer supports opportunistic cycle counts (directing a picker to count a location after he or she picks from it).
- QC/Audit: Voice systems may support a quality control/audit process. Intelligent voice systems enable managers to better prioritize which orders are checked with parameter-based criteria (inexperienced workers, orders, product type, and customers).
History of Voice Picking in the DC
Today, voice assistance is widely accepted as a way to improve efficiency and usability across many daily activities.
The warehousing and distribution industry has been ahead of the curve in using voice technology to improve manual tasks. Specifically, warehouses have used voice picking for decades to improve worker efficiency.
The early adopters of voice in warehouses had to work around the limitations of the speech recognition of the time. Nevertheless, even the early applications of voice in supply chain led to improved productivity of order pickers and warehouse operators.
Since the late 1990’s, speech recognition has matured. As consumer applications of voice have skyrocketed, tech leaders are pouring millions into improving recognition accuracy. While this consumer application of the concept has led to many advancements, there is still a gap between consumer software and industrial speech recognition required in processes like order fulfillment.
To achieve near-perfect recognition accuracy required in voice-directed picking processes, engines must be tuned for industrial use. Voice recognition software must adapt to the noisy environment, changing conditions and varied accents found in most DCs.
Adding Scanning, Vision and Smarts to Voice Solutions
Early voice picking systems voice-enabled existing paper or RF-based workflows. Today’s advanced voice picking software incorporates flexible, configurable process flows. These systems combine speech recognition with barcode scanning and other input or display tools, including smart glasses.
These so-called multi-modal solutions optimize efficiency and also help companies meet product traceability goals by using advanced data capture tools.
For example, Lucas multi-modal voice-directed solutions deliver bigger improvements in efficiency, productivity, and inventory accuracy, and larger reductions in shipping errors than are possible with simple voice-enabled system.
How to Decide if Voice is Right for My Warehouse?
Voice-directed applications are used primarily in warehouses and distribution centers that are shipping products by the care or less than case quantities.
DCs that only receive and ship full pallets sometimes use voice, although the productivity benefits of voice compared to other technologies (RF, or barcode scanning) may be minimal due to the large amount of travel involved in full pallet moves within a DC.
Other factors to consider to determine if voice is a good fit for you operation:
- Industry: Tens of thousands of warehouses and distribution centers around the world today use voice for outbound product distribution, direct-to-consumer ecommerce fulfillment, and for parts picking and kitting for production operations. Voice can be used for almost any product type ranging from apparel to nuts and bolts, and including items picked and shipped by weight, or length (wire coil, for example). Industries using voice today include, but are not limited to:
- Facility Size: Warehouses and distribution centers ranging from 50,000 ft² to 1 million ft² or larger are great candidates for voice.
- Number of SKUs: The minimum number of SKUs is around 300-500. There is no upper limit as some manufacturing facilities using voice have more than 1 million individual parts.
- Number of Selectors/Pickers and Other Voice Users: Most DCs using voice have at least 10 concurrent pickers per shift. There is no upper limit to the number of users in a single facility.
Read our customer stories to see examples of warehouses and DCs that have successfully implemented voice in their facilities.
Implement Voice-Directed Picking in Your Warehouse Today
Since 1998, we’ve helped over 500 warehouses and DCs dramatically increase worker productivity, operational agility and accuracy with our intelligent voice applications, featuring Jennifer™.
We’d love to do the same for you and get you started, you can schedule a call with one of our voice experts here.