The use of voice technology in distribution centers has proved to boost the productivity and accuracy of order picking, says Mike Glatz, vice president of business development at VoCollect. Now, customers are looking for other DC applications where voice technology can add similar value.
Other applications in the warehouse where voice applications would add value include receiving, put-away, replenishment, loading and cycle counting, says Glatz. "Because voice is so intuitive and natural, companies are able to get new users up and running much faster than with other technologies," he says.
This is particularly important for seasonal operations, where companies can experience a significant increase in their workforce, Glatz says. "Think of a retailer before busy holidays. There is a rush of new workers that have to be up and running and productive and contributing within a matter of hours."
Applying voice technology to other operations in the warehouse follows much the same process as with picking, Glatz says. With replenishment or put-away, for example, forklift operators receive voice commands that direct them to the location where the pallet needs to be stored. "We walk them through, step by step, to the aisle and location and then use a check digit to confirm that the operator is at the correct location," he says.
Similarly, with cycle counting, the host system dictates which slots a worker is to check and communicate those commands by voice. "A worker will be instructed to go to a particular location and will confirm that he is in the right location by reading a check digit. He will then be asked to count the product and provide that information back via voice," says Glatz.
As with picking, voice technology enables workers to be more focused on what they are doing and to be unencumbered by handling another piece of equipment or keeping track of a piece of paper, Glatz says. "That lack of distraction leads to better accuracy and is much faster."
Voice technology, which came out of the military about 20 years ago, is a particularly good fit for distribution centers, Glatz says. "DCs are not quiet places, so having outstanding voice recognition in a high-noise environment is very important and is one of reasons we have been able to take voice technology into the supply chain industry."
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