While the use of voice technology is quite large in consumer markets, the penetration rate of the distribution market, though growing, stands at only about 15 percent, says Sweeney.
The early adopters, of course, were largely the big players in distribution. The return on investment model was too compelling for them to pass up, Sweeney says. Saving up to 10 percent on productivity in such an environment could return millions. But the price point of the technology has dropped sufficiently that now even smaller operations with fewer than 10 pickers can afford to explore voice. And why not since labor is certainly one of their largest expenditures.
Voice is no longer the reserve of the pickers, however. The entire distribution environment is using voice now, says Sweeney, from receiving and putaway to picking, replenishment and loading. The advances are such that some organizations are now looking at second-generation voice applications because they want to interleave, or combine, such tasks as picking with cycle counting.
Ten years or so ago, voice could only run on single-purpose, specialized hardware. Some five years ago, developers began porting the software over to so-called multimodal platforms, Windows-type devices that often can scan bar-codes as well.
Sweeney says there is no longer a battle between voice and bar-codes. Or with keyboard entry, for that matter. He says it comes down to what's the right method for data capture. It may be that voice is better for directing pickers to a certain spot in the DC, where some data retrieval may be better handled by scanning.
Likewise, says Sweeney, the advent of a combination of voice and RFID promises to be of great value to DC operators.
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