Categories
Industry Solutions Mobility Warehouse and Distribution

Voice in the Warehouse: Tips for Maximizing Performance in Demanding Environments

Warehouse workers use their hands a lot — for picking, putaway, shipping, and other important tasks. While mobile computers have helped increase efficiency in the warehouse, those computers also tie up your employees’ hands. Hands-free, voice-based options can help boost productivity even further by keeping employees’ hands free and their eyes on their work. Using voice in the warehouse can improve inventory throughput, shipping accuracy, and even safety.

The Benefits of Voice Direction

Receiving voice direction from the application and being able to speak location, bin codes, status and activity rather than stopping to scan or key-enter them can increase the speed of each pick and putaway action. Voice software is designed to guard against errors and alert employees when they have entered the wrong code or item.
In a typical scenario, the employee scans a barcoded order number from a picking card or sheet, and then receives audio directions about where to locate the items on the sheet. At each location, they can speak the location and bin numbers to confirm they are in the right place and selecting the right item. The system provides quantity information that is confirmed verbally.

Productivity improves because employees can complete more tasks in less time, while accuracy increases because of the feedback and confirmations the system provides. Workers are safer because they aren’t staring at mobile computer screens to confirm their work. There are ergonomic benefits as well because there is less typing and managing of handheld devices.

Voice + Barcode

Each business has different requirements, of course. There will always be a need for barcode scanning in the warehouse. Other operations may find more benefit in a pick-to-light or other type of system.

Each warehouse will require different levels of technology integration to ensure efficient operation. Voice in the warehouse provides a flexible platform that can be used in conjunction with other technologies (such as barcode scanning). Voice also offers significant speed and accuracy improvements compared to other solutions that can quickly provide a return on investment (ROI), particularly for high-velocity and dynamic warehouse operations.

How to Make Voice Work for Your Warehouse

To be successful, a voice implementation should integrate smoothly with the warehouse management system (WMS) in place and be coupled with process optimization activities that will help eliminate bottlenecks and reduce redundancies. In fact, deploying voice in the warehouse can help uncover some of those inefficient workflows and processes because employees will be more focused on value-added tasks. In order to effectively gauge the potential benefits of voice in the warehouse, companies first must identify the pain points that they want the voice solution to address.

Those problem areas can include:

– Higher demand and inventory volumes
– Picking/shipping errors
– Increased operational costs

Voice technology can often address these pain points by enabling higher accuracy and increasing the velocity of picking/putaway tasks compared to paper-based processed, RF scanning, and pick-to-light solutions.

Implementing voice takes a solid understanding of the processes, the application, and the technology.  Some systems may allow for simply voice-enabling existing applications if the applications and operations are already fairly efficient.  Other operations can be completely restructured to interface into new applications for best performance.  Time and motion studies and an open mind to process flow can provide the optimum new system.

Using voice in the warehouse can provide a strategic platform that helps companies expand their business while controlling operating costs and improving customer service. The hands-free, eyes-free approach of voice will provide the most natural and effective method for your warehouse workers to complete their jobs.

Categories
Mobility Warehouse and Distribution

Voice Enablement: The Newest Enterprise Mobility Trend

As ubiquitous as they are in computing, typing and touch are less intuitive and natural than speech; humans have been talking to each other for thousands of years, after all. Voice enablement has been under development in the computer industry for decades, but it is only in recent years that reliable, speech-based interfaces have emerged.

The evolution of voice and speech in mobile computing got a boost via Apple’s introduction of Siri, which brought voice commands to the masses; that platform has improved with each iteration. Google Glass, as well, was primarily voice driven. In the mobile computing space, voice enablement may be the next frontier in innovation.

According to the recent Global Voice Recognition Market 2015-2019 report from TechNavio, voice recognition is growing at 9.4 percent through 2019. Tractica has predicted that the speech and voice recognition market will grow from $249 million to $5.1 billion by 2024.

While voice enablement in consumer technology is more of a convenience (or even a novelty, depending on your point of view), in enterprise mobile computing it can unlock new levels of productivity. In field service, maintenance, warehouse management, and other applications, the hands-free aspect of voice technology can eliminate a considerable amount of typing and scrolling that takes the tech’s hands away from their primary task.

In warehouse management, there are already plenty of companies that have deployed voice-enabled picking and putaway solutions that allow warehouse staff work much more efficiently than if they had to stop and use a keypad-based mobile device to complete their tasks. For forklift drivers and other equipment operators, voice enablement also improves workplace safety because drivers are able to interact with applications while still keeping their eyes on the road (or on the warehouse aisle, as the case may be). In field service, voice enablement could allow technicians to fill in work orders and receive instructions while still using both hands to repair equipment.

Voice technology has also improved operations in hospital settings, where environmental services staff or nursing staff can update patient charts verbally while completing other tasks. Voice technology has also progressed to the point that physicians can record their notes on a mobile device and have them automatically transcribed and loaded into the medical record, all in just a few quick steps. That means clinical documentation is more accurate and can be accessed more quickly by other physicians and clinicians.

That’s not to say that voice enablement is a panacea for every application. Even in warehouse environments, where voice-based input is most firmly entrenched, the speech solution typically complements bar code and RFID technology. If you are trying to record a serial number, for example, a bar code scan is still faster than reading the number out loud. But for basic commands and instructions, voice can eliminate data entry and reduce bottlenecks.

Voice-enabled mobile solutions are growing in number, and expanding into multiple types of applications. Where a hands-free data interface can provide improved safety or productivity, voice solutions provide a reliable and viable solution for mobile data collection and data access.

Categories
Warehouse and Distribution

Why Voice Enablement is the Missing Feature in Every WMS

The addition of voice enablement to a warehouse management system immediately boosts the efficiency of a business and increases the value of business applications.  These improvements are realized so quickly because voice eliminates pauses in productivity that usually occur when employees enter data into a mobile computer.  The hands-free nature of voice allows employees to continue working throughout the day and can even combine with other types of data entry – like barcode scanning – to ensure the accurate completion of tasks.

Voice enablement is the missing feature in every WMS because it:

  1. Is easy to integrate

Voice technology adds a significant amount of functionality to a warehouse management system, and there’s no need to worry about a time consuming implementation process.   Implementation is so simple because:

  • They often come with Telnet and browser applications
  • There is no voice server
  • No changes need to be made to the WMS
  • Network traffic is not changed
  • There are no voice profiles to manage
  1. Offers increased flexibility for applications

Voice enablement empowers organizations to choose the most efficient input method for each application.  Although voice functionality has a lot of operational benefits, it isn’t meant to be used for every type of task. RFID technology, barcode scanners, and data entry keyboards are all best suited for certain situations.  In instances where serial numbers need to be recorded/inputted, barcode scanners offer the most efficient method.

Voice simply adds an additional layer to a warehouse management system.  Taking advantage of it when necessary and avoiding it when it isn’t needed helps increase the efficiency of business operations.

  1. Increases productivity and accuracy

Even without voice enablement, mobile computers offer impressive boosts to productivity and accuracy.  The advantage of voice enablement is that hands-free operation allows employees to continuously work; there are no pauses while employees enter data into mobile computers.   The system can confirm voice entry, so workers won’t even have to look at the screen to verify that the information was recorded.  Voice enablement makes processes truly streamlined – there are no stoppages or hiccups, so information is being passed on instantaneously.

As important as productivity is, business owners know that information becomes useless if it is inaccurate.  Voice enablement greatly reduces data entry errors because wearable scanners can scan selected items while also recording spoken information.  If there are any discrepancies between the spoken and scanned data, employees can act immediately to set things straight.  This combination of data entry options greatly improves the accuracy of operations.

  1. Improves safety in the workplace

With voice enablement in place, workers no longer have to periodically look at mobile computer screens.  This eliminates distractions and allows them to keep their eyes on the work at hand.  Workers who operate vehicles – such as forklifts – will experience the biggest safety boost; distractions are safety hazards, especially when heavy machinery is involved.

Voice enablement is the missing feature in every warehouse management system.  The operational benefits voice technology provides can work wonders for a business’ efficiency. Voice has been proven to provide information accuracy of 99% and boosts warehouse application productivity by at least 10%.  Voice technology even carries benefits outside of the warehouse; it can be used for mobile inspections and a variety of field services.