Other Voices: Voice Picking is calling. Is your DC listening?

Voice delivers real results. So why aren't more users listening?

By ·

Editor’s Note: The following column by Chuck Fuerst, Director of Product Strategy, HighJump Software is part of Modern’s new Other Voices column. The series, published on Wednesdays, will feature ideas, opinions and insights from end users, analysts, systems integraters and OEMs. Click on the link to learn about submitting a column for consideration.

                                                                    ***  ***  **

The global recession still has many businesses reeling and searching for additional cost-cutting projects. In 2011 many businesses turned to their supply chain as an area to achieve greater efficiency with an eye towards cost cutting. As such, voice picking received more attention, but in the end, we still saw lower adoption rates than we were expecting. Could 2012 be the year for voice?

Momentum could be building. More widespread acceptance of speech recognition technology is helping to fuel this momentum. Consumers have grown more comfortable with speech recognition technology, from speech recognition apps on our smart phones or cars with increasing levels of “talking electronics,” speech recognition technology is more widespread than ever. The technology continues to improve as well; including advances in microphones that can filter out background noise and better voice recognition capabilities. Combine technology advancements with strong competitive pressures and thinning margins, it is no wonder that more and more companies are moving voice solutions to the top of their wish lists.

Keeping the customer happy with fast and efficient service has always been a priority, but within today’s distribution center providing great service is paramount. Mistakes in picking can be very costly, both in terms of returns processing as well as the ultimate penalty, customer defection. This is where voice technology shines, enabling warehouse staff to listen and respond to instructions via a headset, freeing their hands to pick more efficiently and accurately. By increasing your worker productivity, voice technology can help you minimize dock-to-shelf times while helping you optimize your inventory-processing capacity.

For companies with a diverse workforce, most speech recognition applications provide supplemental processing or translation of the inputted information before it’s sent to the client from the application. This can provide multilingual capabilities, allowing each worker to listen and respond to commands in their native language, letting them work more comfortably without impeding the process flow.

So why hasn’t voice been implemented in more many distribution centers? The most common misconception is that it’s cost-prohibitive, both as a capital expenditure and operating expense. The first wave of voice implementations were known for being expensive and time consuming investments, leading most to think they were only for large enterprises. Advances in technology, both hardware and software, have led to improved results with most companies recouping their investment in voice within the first year of operation.

Voice is not a standalone system, so for many customers the ease with which it can be integrated into host systems is an important part of deploying the technology. The market has matured beyond early, proprietary solutions. Enterprises now have more choices, with more flexible architectures (multimodal), faster implementations, and additional areas within the four walls where they can apply voice. Most voice solutions can integrate with your existing technology, including major WMS and ERP systems as well as most hardware manufacturers, allowing you to leverage existing investments while driving additional efficiencies.

For enterprises that have already realized significant savings from their WMS implementation, adding voice-enabled logistics could increase productivity by 20% or more, perhaps making voice the next lowest hanging fruit on the efficiency tree.


About the Author

Bob Trebilcock
Bob Trebilcock, editorial director, has covered materials handling, technology, logistics and supply chain topics for nearly 30 years. In addition to Supply Chain Management Review, he is also Executive Editor of Modern Materials Handling. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.

Subscribe to Modern Materials Handling Magazine!

Subscribe today. It's FREE!
Find out what the world’s most innovative companies are doing to improve productivity in their plants and distribution centers.
Start your FREE subscription today!

Latest Whitepaper
Peek Inside Trinchero’s New Automated Warehouse
When Trinchero Family Estates, one of the world's top wineries, consolidated its bottling and distribution with production, they knew they needed to ramp up speed and throughput. Partnering with Swisslog helped them achieve that goal—and more.
Download Today!
From the March 2017 Modern Materials Handling Online Issue
If the early attendee forecast is any indication, you may have already landed in Chicago for ProMat 2017 (April 3-6), the materials handling industry’s leading trade show and educational conference, sponsored by MHI.
Lawson Products: Automation that fits
Lawson’s multi-purpose distribution center
View More From this Issue
Subscribe to Our Email Newsletter
Sign up today to receive our FREE, weekly email newsletter!
Latest Webcast
2016 Warehouse/DC Operations Webcast: Confronting omni-channel complexity
During this webcast we’ll examine the current activities, trends, and best practices in warehouse and DC operations management and how companies plan to address complex issues associate with omni-channel fulfillment.
Register Today!
EDITORS' PICKS
2017 Productivity Achievement Awards
Modern’s annual Productivity Achievement Awards honor companies that have made exceptional...
Johnson & Johnson: A vision for automation
J&J Vision Care brings together a variety of automated technologies, including an innovative...

Using AGVs at LEDVANCE
The lighting manufacturer reaped savings by reducing maintenance costs and product damage, and using...
System Report: Sustainable Distribution at REI
Specialty outdoor retailer REI’s new distribution center brings together the next generation of...