The Advantages of Voice Picking in the Warehouse

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Posted May 19, 2017 7:00:00 AM by Steve Smith & filed under enterprise mobility solutions

Supply chain management is challenging enough. Retailers are especially blessed in this regard as the volume of products to be moved in quick time is crucial to keeping shelves stocked and orders fulfilled.

Amazon's growing same day delivery service is only going keep the pressure on to move inventory quickly. A survey of 1,000 consumers just last year found that the share of people willing to wait five days for a delivery was at 60%, down from 74% just four years earlier. The survey also found that consumers are increasingly looking at delivery options as a differentiator when deciding where to buy an item.

Whether picking volume orders out to shops or direct orders to people's homes, order picking has been estimated to account for as much as 50% of warehouse costs. Implementing a solution that improves order picking accuracy and efficiency, while bringing down its cost would have serious bottom line impact.

Enter voice picking.

Voice picking uses a combination of wearable, speech recognition, and radio frequency technology so warehouse employees can receive and confirm instructions and tasks directly with the warehouse management system. No handheld devices or paper lists to consult when order picking. Completing order fulfillment via voice picking provides many advantages to retailers and their warehouse operations.

Improves picking efficiency

We've found that voice picking systems can improve picking efficiency by 40%. That's a lot of orders getting fulfilled faster and with fewer hands, which directly reduces labor costs. Where are these efficiencies gained?

First, speaking and hearing are our most natural means of communication. We process speech faster than writing and can respond more quickly by speaking than writing or performing data entry. Being able to communicate through voice with an intelligent back-end system leverages employees' most intuitive mode of communication.

Employees are also wearing headsets when using voice picking technology, which keeps them focused on the task at hand. Instead of listening to their favorite music or socializing, they need to give their full attention to the instructions coming in through their headset.

Going hands-free also improves their focus. Instead of juggling their scanner or other hand-held materials, they have both hands free to perform the pick. Their eyes don't need to dart back and forth between their handheld, stock locations, and what's in their path. They can concentrate on making the right pick.

Think of it as the most granular division of labor possible. Voice picking technology lets employees use listening and hearing for one task – getting and confirming instructions while their eyes and hands also have just one task to complete – making the right pick. No more switching back and forth among devices, visual points of reference, or task. Psychologists estimate that the brief mental blocks caused by context switching can suck up to 40% of someone's productive time. Even visual fatigue, caused by constantly switching between screens and product shelfs, takes its toll. In both cases, this sort of mental fatigue can slow reaction times, which has safety implications.

Reduce picking errors

Efficiency only works as a benefit if it doesn't negatively impact accuracy. Getting faster at badly fulfilling errors doesn't help anyone. Increased order picking accuracy improves overall customer satisfaction and keeps costs down. Improve accuracy reduces the administrative costs of correcting errors and managing returns. 

It also ensures that stores have right inventory in the right amounts to meet the needs of their local markets. Inaccurate order picking to stores means wanted stock is unavailable for purchase and retailers bearing the costs of moving overstock where it's wanted or writing it off. Either way – it's a big cost.

With voice picking, product numbers get confirmed between employee and WMS in real time, so any potential errors are caught before they move too far down to the line and cost more to correct. The hands-free and eyes-free picking enabled by voice picking systems also helps ensure that the right picks are being made.

Plus, training methods and opportunities improve with using a headset and real time communications. 

Improves employee training, while reducing training costs and employee churn

I mentioned voice picking systems provide for better training, right? The natural interface of voice picking systems makes training up new hires faster and less expensive, which is certainly valuable during peak sales seasons. 

However, it also improves training (and thus reduces picking errors) in two other ways:

  • Since all picks are recorded on the voice picking system, it's very easy to provide individualized remedial training. Employees can hear exactly where they made an error and learn specifically how to address it.
  • New employees can get real time coaching once they hit the floor. If they come across an exception situation or any scenario where they aren't 100% confident, they can ask questions to managers via their headset in the moment. Managers don't need to take people or time away from the floor. New hires get on the floor more quickly and employees who are having challenges can get up-trained without losing productive time.

And let's face it – the faster and more accurate the employees get, the more everyone is going to enjoy their jobs. No one likes feeling the hammer come down because a wrong pick sent inventory to the wrong place. Happier, more successful employees means less churn.

Voice picking has outstanding ROI

Any warehouse still using a paper pick system will realize serious ROI just by getting rid of all the admin and goods costs needed to maintain a paper pick system. 

Yet even warehouses currently using some pick technology will find that implementing a voice picking system is the most cost efficient way to improve the inventory management system. Unlike, for instance, a pick-to-light system, implementing a voice picking system doesn't require any changes to warehouse floors or installing major hardware. The hardware needed for voice picking is attached to the worker, a headset, and belt radio.  So no great floor reorganizations or installations needed, which keeps costs down and keeps your workers nimble when it comes to keeping the voice picking system current.

If you're curious what a voice picking system can do for you, read more about DecisionPoint's warehouse management solutions here, including our white paper on automating your warehouse.


Warehouse Management

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