What is Voice Picking?
Voice picking, also referred to as pick by voice or voice directed warehousing is a proven process for increasing efficiency and accuracy of pickers in warehouses or distribution centers. Voice picking is a hands-free and eyes-free system that utilizes an intelligent voice agent and speech recognition software to direct associates through their tasks.
As the phrase “voice picking” suggests, organizations initially used these solutions to improve picking operations with voice-only technology. However, today’s voice-directed applications often incorporate complementary technologies like barcode scanning or RFID.
Furthermore, they 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.
How Does Voice Picking Work?
- Voice picking software solutions integrate with the DC’s existing WMS or ERP to receive order information, data about the picking areas, etc.
- The voice system uses this data to organize and create work assignments or tasks and distribute them to individual order pickers on the warehouse floor. For example, the system may direct the user to pick multiple orders in a batch. (This organization of work – e.g., batching orders – can occur either in the WMS or in the voice system, depending on how the technology is implemented.)
- Once the order picker has their work, the voice system and the picker engage in a fluid dialog that ensures the order picker works as efficiently, safely and accurately as possible.
- Pickers wear headsets with an industrial microphone that connects to a mobile device running the voice application.
- The voice of the application tells the picker where to go and what to do, such as the warehouse pick location to go to and the quantity of the item to pick.
- The picker speaks into the microphone to confirm their work. The voice picking application includes speech recognition software that recognizes and interprets the order picker’s spoken responses.
- Pickers confirm they are picking the correct item by speaking a checkstring to validate the picking location. Or, in some applications, they may speak several digits of a product code or other ID printed on the product.
- Pickers also confirm the quantity being picked. The voice application will correct the picker if they enter incorrect information.
- When the pick is complete, the system will send the associate to the next location until their assignment is complete. Advanced voice-directed solutions will optimize pick paths to further increase productivity and efficiency by reducing travel.
- Every interaction between the picker and the voice application is tracked so managers are able to view progress of orders as they are picked.
Advanced work execution systems that include voice technology also have reporting and management tools that complement and extend warehouse management systems (WMS) and labor management systems (LMS). With these management tools, supervisors and managers manage workflow, react to exceptions in real time, and track and manage productivity and performance. These tools increase the overall effectiveness of warehouse operations more broadly.
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:
1) Improve Productivity
Depending on your process (e.g., full case picking from pallets vs. piece picking from flow racks), productivity gains may range from 10-90%. Lucas customers have achieved average picking productivity gains of 36%.
2) Reduce Errors
Even DCs with 99.9% picking accuracy before voice can reduce picking errors by 25% or more with voice picking.
3) Ensure Safety
Because operators are eyes and hands free, they are more aware of surroundings. Operations that add voice solutions often see a decrease in accidents.
4) 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, such as pick-to-light systems or RF barcode scanning
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.