How Voice Picking Is Optimizing Warehousing Operations
Learn how warehouse managers are leveraging voice picking technology to improve efficiency and productivity in e-commerce order fulfillment
The past two years have been challenging for logistics and supply chain companies around the world. During the pandemic, an increase in e-commerce business and The Great Resignation occurred, increasing the need for warehouse labor and weakening the workforce simultaneously. This had a major impact on order fulfillment, causing delays in shipments to both retailers and consumers. Not being able to effectively move products can negatively impact customer satisfaction. Because customer experience is so important to successful business operations today, it is vital that the order fulfillment process goes smoothly.
The e-commerce industry gets more competitive by the day. Because of this, companies are investing in automated systems in their warehouse operations to gain a competitive advantage. As warehouse management systems and the Internet of Things (IoT) have improved, the transition from paper-based pick processes to automated systems has accelerated. More companies than ever are implementing voice-picking systems to optimize their warehouse operations to gain a competitive advantage. In fact, the voice-directed warehousing solution market is expected to grow from $1.4 billion in 2020 to $4.8 billion in 2031.
What is Voice-Picking?
Voice-picking warehouse solutions are paperless, hands-free systems that use speech-recognition and natural language understanding software to direct workers how to execute their picking tasks. This increases the efficiency, accuracy, and throughput of pickers in warehouses and distribution centers. Configured to warehouse management systems, voice-picking systems direct pickers to specific locations throughout the warehouse facility. . The system can then tell employees what products to pick to fulfill orders.
Voice-picking systems have been used in warehousing operations since the early 1990’s. The initial systems were considered to be revolutionary because they gave warehouse workers the ability to work hands-free. Voice-picking systems of the past utilized user-dependent speaker recognition software. This technology was costly and cumbersome, however.
This software required each worker to record voice samples so the system could recognize commands. These samples were then loaded into an internet-connected voice server. Today’s systems use user-independent speaker recognition software that can interpret multiple languages without the need for voice samples.
Voice-picking provides an alternative to paper-based picking processes. The system helps to make warehousing operations more efficient while simultaneously improving the safety and health of warehouse workers. The systems are compatible with many types of wearable technologies and mobile devices used in warehouses such as:
- Smart glasses
- Wearable barcode scanners
- IoT-connected sensors on mobile racks.
Voice-directed picking systems also enable greater inventory control by enabling warehouse managers to send and share inventory updates, feedback, and instructions in real-time. If there is a problem with an order such as the wrong location, inventory shortage, or product damage, the picker can speak the problem into the system. The system can then automatically recognize, interpret, and update the warehouse management system to the correct state.
How Does Voice-Picking Work?
- Pickers wear a voice-picking device. These mobile devices are typically mobile computers such as a tablet linked to a headset and a barcode scanner. Barcode scanners can be attached to the mobile device or worn in the form of a warehouse wearable device.
- The picking system receives orders from the warehouse management system. The orders are then recorded, sequenced, and released for fulfillment.
- The voice-picking device speaks to the warehouse worker, providing picking tasks and the locations of inventory.
- The picker walks an optimized route to specific picking locations. At each location, the picker verbally confirms the location and bin number.
- The voice-picking system then confirms that the picker is in the correct picking location and provides the picker with the correct quantity of inventory to pick. The picker will then confirm the quantity and proceed with picking tasks.
- Once picking is complete, the system sends the picker to their next location. The process is then repeated until all picking is complete.
Warehouses and distribution centers around the world utilize voice-picking for outbound product distribution & direct-to-consumer e-commerce fulfillment. Voice-picking systems are useful in warehousing logistics because they can be used for different product types and operational processes. Some examples include:
- Order picking and order fulfillment
- Truck loading and shipping
- Packing and consolidation
- Cycle count
Supply chain executives report attaining a 50% decrease in picking errors in less than one year with voice integration.
Advantages of Utilizing Voice-Picking
With the advent of e-commerce, labor shortages and stock keeping unit (SKU) proliferation has made managing inventory more difficult than ever. Luckily, voice-picking warehousing solutions can simplify processes, making overcoming challenges easier.
E-commerce has made it simpler for both retailers and consumers to place orders for products whenever they want. Because orders can come at any time of day, the need for flexibility and speed in order fulfillment has increased.
Here are some advantages of voice-picking that solve warehousing challenges:
With voice-picking technology, the use of pen and paper spreadsheets are a thing of the past. Working hands-free, employees can focus on the order fulfilment process. As a result, workers can pay closer attention to order information, mitigating picking errors. Compared to manual pen and paper picking, voice-picking systems reduce picking errors by nearly 67%.
The hands-free capability of voice-picking systems is especially advantageous in cold storage warehousing. In cold warehouse facilities, workers wear gloves to protect themselves from harsh environmental conditions. With voice-picking, workers can wear the proper equipment without having to remove them to enter product information into mobile computers.
Pick Path Optimization
Voice-picking systems used in today’s warehouses analyze nearly every aspect of warehouse operations. This includes the pathways that pickers use to pick inventory. Connected to the Internet of Things, voice-picking systems continuously optimize picking paths by searching for the best route through a warehouse’s space. Voice-picking systems also combine factors to ensure inventory is picked, packed, and shipped. Factors include:
- Pick path direction
- Product dimensions
- Warehouse traffic
- Fulfillment destinations
- Delivery timelines
Voice-picking systems are commonly used in:
Retail and E-commerce Fulfillment Centers
- Beverage Wholesalers: Beer, Wine & Spirits, Soft Drinks
- Grocery and Food Distribution: Fresh, Frozen and Packaged Food
- Foodservice & Convenience
- Healthcare Products and Pharmaceuticals
- Industrial, Parts, HVAC and Electrical Supply
Accurate Voice Recognition
Voice-recognition technology such as voice-based Google searches, voice-input communication tools on vehicles, and home-based entertainment systems like Amazon’s Alexa are widely used around the world. With voice-recognition technology, users often repeat words and phrases until the device properly understands.
Although technology is improving, the capabilities of these systems vary tremendously from voice-directed picking systems. Warehouse workers do not have the time to repeat requests. Therefore, voice-picking technology utilizes some of the most advanced speech recognition software on the market today. This ensures that systems correctly interpret every word. The systems can even account for variables such as:
- Ambient noise
Voice-directed picking systems are so advanced that they can recognize a worker’s voice and automatically create individual profiles for each employee. If the system cannot recognize the employee’s voice, it can alert management so that they can address the issue.
Supply chain workers are represented by different cultures and speak a wide variety of languages. If English is not the worker’s native language or they have difficulty with it, not only can their productivity be affected but also their safety and health. Today’s voice-picking systems support multiple languages through translation software. This enables workers to speak whatever language with which they are comfortable.
The systems also help non-English speakers to build language skills, which increases career advancement opportunities as well as their overall value to the company. By utilizing voice-picking systems, companies can mitigate the impact of the labor shortage by being able to fill job openings from a larger labor pool.
Supply chains are constantly changing. Orders can be delayed by transportation constraints due to weather related issues or from a lack of inventory. They can even be delayed when customers make changes to their orders. Voice-picking technology gives warehouse managers increased insight into inventory levels so that they can anticipate delivery outcomes and make changes to orders in real-time. When there are changes to orders, voice-picking systems help warehouse managers alert pickers of changes in the systems directly, so management does not have to stop order fulfillment operations to relay order picking updates and instructions.
Cost-effective Employee Training
Smart warehousing has made warehousing education extremely important. Because each warehouse is different, newly hired employees must not only learn the configuration of a warehouse’s floor but also how to use new technology, ensuring that they pick the correct orders swiftly. Voice-picking technology improves how employees are trained.
Normally, newly hired pickers are paired with an experienced worker who guides them through the picking process over a period of time. By taking an experienced worker out of normal picking tasks to train, less orders are fulfilled.
With voice-picking, warehouse managers can train employees remotely. This enables workers to explore a warehouse’s space on their own while the system directs them through the order fulfillment process. If employees need assistance, they can easily communicate with management.
This is crucial when a large number of temporary workers are hired during seasons with high order volume.. Because voice-picking has a reduced learning curve, temporary workers can work alone sooner without affecting pick accuracy.
Improved Occupational Safety and Health
Due to the hands-free nature of voice-picking technology, it is effective in limiting distractions. Workers do not have to look through documents, enabling them to focus on the task at hand. The increased awareness reduces safety risks that can come from handling raw materials or dangerous objects in distribution and storage facilities.
Outdated picking solutions are one of the biggest challenges facing warehouse managers. With e-commerce fulfillment centers racing to get a competitive advantage, fulfillment centers of all sizes are using voice-picking technology as a warehouse solution to better serve their customers.
Optimal productivity and efficiency are vital to warehousing and distribution center operations in the wake of the e-commerce boom and labor shortage. Labor is one of the most costly aspects of warehousing. In some instances, it can make up 65% of costs in fulfillment centers. As order volume increases and SKUs grow, companies need an effective labor force. Voice-picking systems can help optimize the workforce without increasing staff.
Voice-picking systems are beneficial to warehouse logistics because they can optimize the order fulfillment process so companies can move products to customers faster. As one of the most important warehousing functions, order fulfillment directly affects a company’s success. Voice-picking helps to reduce labor costs as well as delivery times, leading to improved customer experience and customer satisfaction.
Voice-picking systems can reduce safety risks for employees by letting them work hands-free, enabling them to better focus on their tasks. This improves the occupational safety and health inside of warehouses, mitigating workplace injuries and sustaining the current workforce.
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