Logistics and efficient warehouse management is increasingly becoming a competitive factor for companies. Only goods that can be delivered to the customer can be sold and generate turnover. In all areas of the economic cycle (the supply chain), warehouse management systems encounter and deal with stockpiling, whether in procurement, production or distribution.
The world of warehouse management is constantly changing. As innovation continues, more and more enterprise software applications and features are coming to market to help companies improve their warehouse processes. In this context, supply chain managers are also faced with the question of how to create a connection to an ERP system or other enterprise software applications, should or can a warehouse management system (WMS) work independently within the enterprise resource planning.
What you should know about voice picking
Table of Contents:
- Voice Controlled Order Picking in Detail
- Step-by-step picking process
- Advantages of voice-controlled order picking and necessary framework conditions
- Which economic indicators should you consider before introducing a pick-by-voice system?
- What should you consider before introducing voice-controlled order picking in your company?
Voice Controlled Order Picking in Detail
This technology, also known as voice-activated warehousing or voice-based picking, uses voice prompts to help users identify picking locations and find the items they need. The solution is hands-free and paperless, requiring only simple mobile headsets While this sounds promising, it is not suitable for every company. In this publication, we address the aspects you should consider if you are still undecided about introducing such a solution or have questions.
How does paperless order picking work?
Instructions that employees receive from a voice picking system help them navigate through the warehouse and lead them directly to the locations and products they need to pick. Once they have found, identified and selected these products, they can speak into the headset and confirm that the picking order was successful. This provides feedback to the system that the pick list has been processed step by step or completed successfully.
Then the speech recognition software (which uses voice recognition technology) interprets the message and decides whether to authenticate or reject the pick based on the data received. This process continues at each picking station until the order is completed. Throughout the process, employees have their hands and eyes free. All they have to do is listen and respond. Without cumbersome clipboards or tablets, pickers can fully concentrate on the task at hand.
Where else does this picking method find areas of application?
Although this type of software is most commonly used in warehouses, it can also be used in other locations, such as:
- Distribution centres
- Retail shops
- eCommerce processing centres
- Assembly lines
- As part of an integration with WMS or an ERP system
Figure: Turnover volume of the logistics market in Europe by individual countries in 2018 (in billions of euros). Source: Fraunhofer (Fraunhofer SCS) © Statista 2020
Typical solutions solved with Pic by Voice
- General warehouse movements (storage and retrieval, storage and retrieval, replenishment of articles during manual processing)
- Container picking
- General cargo picking
- Goods receipt and returns
- Quality control and quality inspection
Most voice picking applications are designed to integrate seamlessly with a company's existing warehouse management software (WMS) or enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. This two-way integration allows the application to access critical inventory data, including specific order information and details about picking area locations. With this information, the voice system can organise and create new work orders and individual employee tasks. It can then relay these instructions to the pickers in the warehouse. For example, the system can access a stack that contains multiple orders. It can scan this data, notify the employees and instruct them to pick the orders as requested. While some voice systems are persistent and comprehensive enough in functionality to initiate these types of tasks themselves, most use a WMS integration to organise the work in this function.
Step-by-Step Picking Process
Now that the most important points of the software for voice-controlled picking have been explained, it will be shown how this picking procedure works in a real scenario.
- The communication starts in a WMS or an ERP system.
- As soon as this software receives information on order preparation, it transmits it to a mobile voice picking device. This device (usually hardware, mobile display systems in combination with software) in turn relays the data to the picker's headset.
- As soon as the employee hears the message, he can set off for the storage location (destination).
- When he gets there, he knows exactly where to turn. This is because the voice in the headset clearly communicates important identifiers, including the items and quantities to be picked.
- Before picking, the worker speaks a control code into the headset's microphone to tell the system that he has found the right place. Then he picks the goods as requested.
- Back at the WMS, the system receives confirmation that the picker has found the correct location.
- After the worker confirms the quantity remaining on the shelf, the WMS updates the stock database to reflect the latest figures.
- If everything matches, the system marks that task as completed and moves on to the next task. However, if there is a discrepancy, the system relays this information to the worker and instructs them how to proceed.
- When the entire order line has been picked, the voice system tells the worker that the task is complete. He is then instructed how to label, weigh and properly pack the individual orders.
Advantages of Voice-Controlled Order Picking & Necessary Framework Conditions
- Voice-activated picking technology supports the warehouse worker by leaving both hands free and allowing unrestricted degrees of movement.
- The picking process is simplified, which significantly increases productivity. This applies to picking entire cases from pallets as well as single item picking in flow racks.
- In addition, training employees in the use of voice-controlled picking technology is relatively easy, so your employees will be up and running in no time. Long training periods for use are eliminated. The employee needs less training support to get to know the last nooks and crannies of the system.
- Another advantage is the reduction of user errors. The system knows exactly how much goods need to be picked and where they are. This reduces the error rate and makes time-consuming recounts a thing of the past.
- Finally, voice-controlled picking software has the potential to improve safety in the warehouse. Employees can focus their eyes and hands on the task at hand without distractions that could break their concentration and put them in danger.
However, this technology is not suitable for every type of warehouse or distribution centre. This is especially true for centres that work mainly with full pallets. In these facilities and these types of warehouses, transfers with full pallets would require a high number of trips when using voice-controlled systems alone. For this reason, most of the inventory management solution providers offer software solutions that also include robotic picking, RFID technology and barcode scanning.
Which Economic Indicators Should You Consider Before Introducing a Pic by Voice System?
Considerations about the scale of your logistics today and in the future should be taken into account. You should only use voice picking software if your warehouse or distribution centre roughly meets the following criteria:
- At least 50,000 square metres
- At least 300 SKUs
- At least 10 pickers per shift working at the same time
Operations that meet these criteria usually deal with large volumes of products, including many medium-sized products or items on pallets, in bins or in containers. They are large enough to require voice picking, but not so large that they can be fully converted to more advanced solutions such as robotics.
Figure: Market volume of the logistics market in Europe in the years 2008 to 2021 (in billions of euros). Source: Fraunhofer (Fraunhofer SCS) © Statista 2020
What Should You Consider Before Introducing Voice-Controlled Order Picking in Your Company?
If you already have a WMS or ERP solution in your company or are considering implementing one, a voice-activated picking system can be an excellent addition. This easy-to-learn technology can increase employee productivity, simplify inventory management and even improve warehouse security. However, it is important to check and make sure that business model this form of inventory management suits you before investing in such pick by voice software. Use scenario techniques and create a catalogue of requirements or specifications to make a decision on such a fact-based foundation.