By YonBee Yang | January 21, 2021
What are Voice-Driven Solutions?
Voice-driven tasks are designed to increase the overall productivity, accuracy, and scalability of warehouse operations. The associates use a headset that is connected to a wearable mobile device which is supported by a voice application. The voice application gives verbal instructions on how to complete the task and uses speech recognition to understand the spoken words from the associates. A typical warehouse utilizes a WMS to generate and assign work to warehouse associates. These tasks/assignments are then transmitted into RF guns via RFID scanner-based systems or transferred to paper-based systems.
Similar to RF-based scanners, voice technology utilizes a radio frequency network to transmit assignments and information between the WMS and a wearable mobile device. The associates can attach this wearable mobile device onto their waists with a belt. The work assignments are then received in the form of verbal commands by the associates through a headset that is paired to the wearable device via Bluetooth or a wired connection. In an example of a picking scenario, the associate will hear commands through the headset to direct them to the correct location via a combination of aisle/bay/shelf/position. At the location, the associate confirms that they are in the correct location by saying the correct check digit. Then the spoken check digit is interpreted by the voice device and is then transmitted back to the WMS for validation. The voice device will then send another set of instructions, and the process repeats until the associate completes their task.
With picking being the most time-consuming task in the warehouse, voice-driven solutions are typically used to improve picking productivity. Nevertheless, voice solutions are robust enough that they can be implemented to improve other warehouse processes from receiving, putaway, replenishment, loading, packing, put-to-store, flow-throughs and crossdocking, and more.
How do Voice-Driven Solutions Improve Warehouse Operations?
Below are key improvements with the use of voice-driven solutions:
- Hands-free leading to higher productivity
With the voice devices attached to the associates, they do not have to keep juggling an RF scanner in and out of their pocket. With both hands free, associates can move, pick, and lift items more efficiently. In voice picking implementations, an average voice picker saves around 2 – 3 seconds per pick which leads to an overall productivity and throughput increase ranging from 10 to 50%.
- Eyes-free leading to higher accuracy and safety
Voice users can fully focus on their task at hand instead of switching their attention between an RF device screen and doing their task. In addition, it is safer for the associate to always keep their head up while traveling throughout the warehouse. Successful voice implementations have reported accuracy rates > 99%.
- Scalability through ease of training and integration
With voice solutions, training becomes more efficient as users do not have to familiarize themselves with the device’s interface, and learning voice commands is inherently easier with most voice solutions supporting multiple languages. This allows on-boarding of new or seasonal workers to be quicker and more efficient. Moreover, integration with existing systems such as a WMS are becoming easier as mature WMS solutions often have well-established voice interfaces. Voice solutions also usually provide middleware solutions to connect to legacy systems if necessary.
The Future of Voice-Driven Solutions
One of the first implementations of voice-driven work in warehouses have been known to date back to the late 1990s. Despite the early adoption of voice solutions in warehouses, only 20 to 25% of today’s warehouses and DCs have implemented voice picking solutions according to the WERC’s 2018 annual survey. Nevertheless, the significant improvements in warehouse productivity and efficiency are the key trends to increase the adoption of voice technology. Also, as retailers put more emphasis on its online and omni-channel commerce, the importance of efficiency and productivity are more crucial than ever, making voice picking a popular choice. Some retailers are even looking to leverage voice solutions for their store-based fulfillment capabilities.
The future of voice solutions looks promising with major leaps in the advancement of voice technology. There are voice picking solutions powered by deep neural networks that can eliminate the need for the time-consuming voice template training while attaining higher speech recognition accuracy despite loud ambient noises in the working environment. Furthermore, partnerships, acquisitions, and product launches within the realm of voice technology are also flourishing which leads to more seamless integration of voice solutions with other technologies such as WMS, LMS, robotics and automation, BI tools, and other wearables such as AR (Augmented Reality) devices and ring scanners. At the current growth rate, the market predicts that global voice-driven warehousing solutions will reach around $2.9 billion by 2026.
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Contributor: Warren Teddy, Supply Chain Consultant at Bricz