The first time I was confronted with the idea of voice picking, I was intrigued. This was quite a long time ago, but when I saw the design spec I sat down with the consultant who was designing the system to learn more. I asked him, “Why the heck would a user want to talk to the computer.” His response: “Because functions executed using voice are much more efficient.” Clearly, technology evolves, and that’s a good thing.
The technologies we’ve used up until now have some clear deficiencies. We started with scanning guns that were miles ahead of manual processes, but still had some limitations.
Cons with the RF handheld devices
- Users need to put the device down to finish their pick, and then pick it back up to continue scanning. That slows things down.
- Users always need to be concerned that they don’t drop and break the device, so they spend extra time looking for a safe place to set it down.
- Users must press keys on a small and crowded interface to use the device, which leads to errors and delays.
- Handheld devices are easy to lose, and even get dropped by mistake into boxes shipped to customers.
Next, wrist-mounted devices came along to address some of the concerns. The biggest boon was the hands-free capability, but there were still some down sides.
Cons with the wrist-mounted devices
- The smaller form factor required users to press multiple keys for certain commands. Log in and use are a struggle, and take lots of time.
- Some users found the wearables bulky and heavy.
- The second shift disliked using devices that had been strapped on to other workers for hours. (Sweaty, smelly, and unsanitary.)
- Complex key commands also makes training onerous.
- Finally, voice technology emerged to promise multiple benefits.
- Voice combines hands free and eyes free. The picker doesn’t have to carry a device or look at a screen which speeds everything. This provided clear benefit for to the picking process by increasing throughput (i.e. the amount of product received through the inbound doors and shipped through the outbound doors). There’s a clear connection between orders shipped, orders invoiced, and company revenue. A billion-dollar retailer/distributor typically picks about 100 million units, so a savings of half a second per pick, results in 50 million seconds saved, equivalent to 13,889 hours, which at rate of $14 per hour, translates to $194,446 is savings per year.
- Voice commands preclude workers chatting with each other, which offers an unexpected time savings. In addition, the cool factor of the technology enhances user adoption. Also with voice, it keeps the operators going constantly, they don’t have the time to chit chat with their fellow pickers, hence that time is saved also.
- Paper-based systems are fast, but error prone. The voice system, because it is closely intertwined with the warehouse management system (WMS), caught errors immediately. In the end, it provided the best speed and accuracy combination.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Puga Sankara is the co-founder of Smart Gladiator LLC. Smart Gladiator designs, builds, and delivers market-leading mobile technology for retailers, distributors, and 3PL service providers. So far, Smart Gladiator Wearables have been used to ship, receive, and scan more than 50 million boxes. Users love them for the lightweight, easy-to-use soft overlay keyboard and video chatting ability, data collection ability etc. Puga is a supply chain technology professional with more than 17 years of experience in deploying capabilities in the logistics and supply chain domain. His prior roles involved managing complicated mission-critical programs driving revenue numbers, rolling out a multitude of capabilities involving more than a dozen systems, and managing a team of 30 to 50 personnel across multiple disciplines and departments in large corporations such as Hewlett Packard. He has deployed WMS for more than 30 distribution centers in his role as a senior manager with Manhattan Associates. He has also performed process analysis walk-throughs for more than 50 distribution centers for WMS process design and performance analysis review, optimizing processes for better productivity and visibility through the supply chain. Size of these DCs varied from 150,000 to 1.2 million SQFT. Puga Sankara has an MBA from Georgia Tech. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the company at www.smartgladiator.com. Also follow him at www.pugasankara.com