Other Voices: Voice-directed warehousing is showing its age—in a good way

As voice technology matures, it's taking on new roles in warehousing, distribution and order fulfillment

May 01, 2013 - MMH Editorial

Editor’s Note: The following column by Ian Hobkirk, managing director, Commonwealth Supply Chain Advisors, is part of Modern’s Other Voices column. The series features ideas, opinions and insights from end users, analysts, systems integraters and OEMs. Click on the link  to learn about submitting a column for consideration.

                                                        ***  ***  **

I was recently asked to speak at the Material Handling Industry’s spring conference in Charlotte. The audience was a group of supply chain software executives that wanted to better understand the reasons why companies hold back on replacing or upgrading their WMS systems. To prepare for the speech, I interviewed about thirty of our customers who have either undertaken or are considering WMS projects right now.

Our research brought to light an interesting aspect of a trend that has been developing for the last several years: the rise of voice directed warehousing as an alternative to WMS enhancement. The eye-opening finding is that the headline with voice is no longer about hands-free operation, although that certainly continues to be a major benefit to adopting such systems.

To back up a moment – let’s look at what our research uncovered regarding the reasons why companies hold back on WMS enhancements. Companies repeatedly stated that they were searching for improved functionality in their warehousing operations companies with primitive, legacy software are looking for basic functionality like the ability to automatically confirm pick transactions to improve accuracy.

Companies with more advanced WMS systems are looking for the ability to perform more complex picking processes like batch and zone picking. Despite the need for these features, many companies refuse to upgrade or enhance their WMs systems due to fears about risky or “bad” implementations. Commonwealth has written in the past about the potential for problematic go-lives that seem to accompany WMS projects.

Many companies are choosing voice not so much for its hands-free, ergonomic benefits, as for the ability to achieve key functionality items without the risk of a full-blown WMS roll-out. These companies are not evolving along a paper-to-bar-code-to-voice path, but are going straight from paper to voice. These projects tend to be more palatable to the IT group, as they are more about overlaying than ripping-and-replacing.

As a cautionary note, however, it is worth pointing out that many of Commonwealth’s customers who have deployed voice have reported some bumps in the road both during and immediately after the go-live (although these generally have not risen to the level of severity that can be experienced with a broader WMS deployment). Additionally, some of the voice providers seem to be spread very thin at the moment with multiple implementations straining their resources.

Stay tuned as we continue this research, and look at some of the keys to successfully deploying a voice system in the warehouse.



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!

Recent Entries

This fully updated 7th edition of the “Belt Conveyors for Bulk Materials”, is a must have source book for end users, designers, engineers, manufacturers and consultants.

While we've been focusing on the warehouse, the next evolution in e-commerce is the last mile delivery and in-store fulfillment. It could be the break brick-and-mortar has been looking for.

Motorola to focus on mission-critical communications for government and public safety customers.

Educational demonstrations and facility tours build interest in robotics engineering.

About the Author

Bob Trebilcock, executive editor, has covered materials handling, technology and supply chain topics for Modern Materials Handling since 1984. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. Contact Bob Trebilcock.

Comments

Post a comment
Commenting is not available in this channel entry.


© Copyright 2013 Peerless Media LLC, a division of EH Publishing, Inc • 111 Speen Street, Ste 200, Framingham, MA 01701 USA