The race for increasing turnover, customer satisfaction, and efficiency has never been as heated as it is now, with companies vying for any piece of technology that will give them that extra “push” to achieve even higher targets. One of the innovations that has contributed to improving results in all of these aforementioned factors is Voice-Directed Warehousing.
What is Voice-Directed Warehousing?
Voice-directed warehousing is a technology that employs voice direction in conjunction with voice recognition software to relay commands to workers tasked with a wide range of activities performed in a warehouse or distribution center, including picking, receiving, replenishment and shipping. The technology dates back to the 1990s, but since then it has flourished and innovated in numerous ways, making it the industry standard with the data to prove its effectiveness.
How does it work?
To put it simply, voice-directed warehousing equips each employee with a small computer, more or less the size of a walkman and a headset with a microphone. Through the headset, commands are relayed to the employee by an operator that gives him/her all of the relevant information regarding the task at hand.
The operator receives information regarding the orders from the warehouse management system (WMS), or alternatively enterprise resource planning (ERP) software. For example, an employee tasked with picking will be directed to the location of the required product and told how much of the product is required.
Once the worker arrives at the designated location he/she takes advantage of the attached microphone to “speak” to the software and confirms the location by reciting a checkstring. Depending on the software being used, the employee will then validate the product by informing the voice recognition software of the product's code and of the quantity picked.
If the employee makes an error while relaying information the software will correct the picker and demand the correct information. Once the task is complete the software will send the employee to the next assignment.
More advanced software will even further optimize the employees' performance by suggesting more efficient routes around the warehouse. Besides maximizing the performance of the individual worker, the information collected by the software is accessible to managers, who can track results, making the system even more efficient. This information can be used to manage workflow and to mitigate the fallout from problems in real-time, should they arise.
What are the benefits of Voice-Directed Warehousing?
As a civilization, we are living in unprecedented times, with the drive towards automatization and voice-directed technologies becoming more and more apparent in every single aspect of our lives. All of us have come into contact with some form of voice-directed technology, whether it be talking to our smartphones or using some form of virtual assistant AI technology that has made managing our lives simpler, more effective, and as a result more satisfactory.
As mentioned before, voice-directed warehousing dates back to the 1990s and since then the technology has advanced in leaps and bounds becoming the most effective method of optimizing workflow in the warehouse environment. Competing technologies such as “pick to light” systems are generally more costly and require the installation of extensive components in the warehouse and also limit operator mobility, as the operator relaying orders must be at all times managing staff through the “pick to light” system. So what does voice-directed warehousing give us?
- Increased picking accuracy - research has shown that transferring from a paper-based system to a voice-directed system has resulted in an 80 to 90% reduction in errors committed by workers. This is ensured by employees confirming their picks with the software before committing to an order.
- Increased employee productivity - the use of voice recognition software in warehouses and distribution centers has resulted in employees being burdened with a smaller amount of responsibilities. Before the advent of voice direction, employees had to fill out an inordinate amount of paperwork, carry handheld devices to read information from barcodes, and regularly fetch pick lists. All of these tasks were time-consuming and took away from the most important one which was moving the correct product as efficiently as possible to the next step of the distribution cycle. Voice direction does away with these obstacles and optimizes the workflow.
- Improved safety - one of the greatest threats to employee safety is a lack of concentration due to the need to “juggle” various tasks at the same time. Voice direction cuts back on the need for dangerous multi-tasking. Try to imagine which one would be safer; a workplace where the employee has to operate a box cutter while simultaneously filling out forms, his thoughts clouded by the need to micromanage numerous steps of the process or an environment where the employees' eyes, arms and mind are concentrated only on one task? The answer of course is the second scenario and experience has shown that adopting voice direction systems allowed warehouses to dramatically minimize the probability of workplace accidents.
- Reduced training time - adopting voice direction systems has the added benefit of reducing training time for new employees. Instead of grappling with obtuse paperwork and data entry, employees can instead follow instructions delivered in a simple language that is easy to grasp for most anyone. Transport and logistics businesses that have introduced voice directed warehousing have noted that training now only lasts one day, with workers becoming proficient with the system within two weeks. Traditional warehouse management techniques require many days of training and an even longer period before employees can be considered competent.
- Increased employee satisfaction - a worker that delivers better results, experiences less stress, performs less redundant tasks, and has a safer workplace is by definition a happier employee. Many companies have noted increased worker satisfaction upon the introduction of voice-directed systems. Simplifying situations that in the past were at the root of many workplace problems has also resulted in reduced employee turnover which is beneficial towards growing a work environment that functions more cohesively.
- Happier customers - the final destination of every supply chain is of course the customer, for whom countless companies are competing. To ensure that the hard-earned dollar of the “average Joe” makes its way to you, ensuring customer satisfaction is of the highest importance. A well-organized supply chain and warehouse are paramount in achieving this goal. Limiting mistakes, workplace accidents, errors in delivery, and streamlining processes ensure that your customer will receive their purchase at a rate that will surely make them want to continue pursuing business with your company.
- Increased Saving - when taking into consideration all of the above-listed arguments that show the benefits of voice-directed warehousing it becomes obvious that the bottom line of all these advantages are savings. By cutting back on time and money wasted on administration costs and ineffective labor it has been found that an initial ROI is attained after 3 months of employing the system, with productivity increasing anywhere from 10% - 80%.
How others do it
Countless companies have adopted voice-directed warehousing and have praised the benefits that go along with the technology. Let’s take a look at two examples that showcase the power of this technology.
Parmalat - this Australian company is one of the largest dairy producers in the country. After introducing warehouse management systems (WMS) in conjunction with the Honeywell Vocollect technology, the company's largest warehouse in Lidcombe achieved a 15% increase in productivity.
Dorfman Pacific - this company specializes in selling headwear to clothing retailers. In the past, the company employed traditional paperwork in fulfilling orders. This resulted in slower order fulfillment and lost paperwork. After introducing voice direction, accuracy and speed increased considerably, allowing orders to be fulfilled within 24 hours and increased accuracy has resulted in fewer mistakes, improving in turn customer satisfaction.
It's not "nice to have" anymore
Voice-directing has become the industry standard for managing warehouses and distribution centers; and since its introduction has grown along with the advent of new technologies. The future is looking bright for this field as new technological advancements, such as smart glasses, the internet of things, machine learning, robotics and continuously improving voice recognition software, are going to make voice direction an even more potent tool for streamlining workflow.
This, in turn, will result in increased profits. As we witness the creation of a new, turbulent economic paradigm, the adoption of the newest technologies dictates competitiveness, flexibility, and adaptability; features that no business hoping to ride out these choppy waters can do without. The multi-modal approach offered by voice direction and the other technologies that cooperate alongside it have the potential to elevate your business's performance and ensure that your business is one of the “ships” that makes it through the stormy night.