Increasing Warehouse Efficiency Through Voice Batch Picking
As interactive voice technology has grown in popularity in the lives of consumers, it is also becoming increasingly commonplace in the warehouse. In fact, millions of warehouses and distribution centers across the world are running their product picking processes using voice-enabled workflow technology.
The reason many businesses have made the switch to voice technology is simple: money, or more specifically, increased profits. With approximately two thirds of warehousing costs attributed to the pick, pack, and ship process, operators are feeling the pinch to increase the efficiency and accuracy of their workers, and the throughput of their operations. Voice-enabled picking is one technology that is making great strides on both fronts. With voice technology, workers are told which products to pick, and they confirm their selections verbally. This eliminates the need to stop, look at a screen, and key in a quantity or scan a barcode. The confirmations then flow into a warehouse management system while updating the company’s ERP system in real time. The resulting workflow improvements and enhanced visibility into available inventory serve to lower operational costs significantly, helping customers achieve a higher level of business performance.
So Why Is Voice Picking So Popular Among Workers?
Voice-enabled picking creates a direct dialogue between your company’s mission critical systems and your team members via the simplest means possible: a conversation in plain language they use every day, utilizing the same voice-prompted technology that permeates most of our daily lives. Let’s take a look at the top benefits of voice picking.
1) Increased Productivity
The single biggest threat to warehouse productivity is wasted time. No matter where it shows up in the pick, pack and ship process, unproductive time is a profit killer. This is particularly true among product pickers. As a general rule, warehouse workers spend 50-70 percent of their time walking to and from item storage locations. When workers are forced to utilize outdated picking processes and technology, their efficiency can be diminished at an even greater rate.
Because locations and desired quantities of products are communicated to workers as they move through the building, voice-enabled picking technology allows employees to operate totally “Hands-Free,Eyes-Free” … with both hands available for lifting products and their eyes focused on their task. With no scanners to continually pick up and put down, and no need to read information from a piece of paper or a terminal screen, there are fewer steps required to complete a pick, thereby increasing the speed of picking.
With voice picking, workers are continuously on the move. When one operation is completed, the worker receives a verbal command to move to the next bin or aisle to select the next product. There is zero lag time between tasks, ensuring a significant increase in overall productivity for the warehouse. After eliminating process and technology roadblocks from the picking process, warehouses and DCs will often see an increase in productivity up to 35 percent.
2) Increased Accuracy
Picking errors can be disastrous to a company’s reputation, its level of customer satisfaction, and the overall profitability of its warehouse operation. Similar to the substantial productivity improvements enjoyed by warehouses after moving to voice-enabled technology, accuracy gains using voice picking are also significant.
Because of the “Hands-Free, Eyes-Free” environment voice picking allows, workers can focus their full attention on the accurate completion of the task at hand, thereby eliminating distractions caused by viewing and handling paper lists, scanners, or terminal screens. Users receive voice commands with specific instructions as to the location and quantity of desired products, and then validate each activity by voice confirming that he or she is picking the correct number of the correct products from the correct location.
Because voice picking technology eliminates most sources of human error, mistakes are reduced typically by at least 80 percent, and it’s not unusual for many warehouses and DCs to achieve 99.99% picking accuracy. In addition, voice systems hold workers more accountable for their picking quality. Any errors that do occur can be easily traced. Managers can pinpoint the date, time, location, and quantity of each picking mistake, allowing for rapid resolution for warehouse customers.
3) Quick Adoption and Training
With voice, supervisors leverage easier training and significant cost reductions to quickly get new, part-time, or seasonal workers up to speed. This is especially helpful during peak seasons. Because each task that a worker performs is driven by a voice prompt, the need to train workers on reading printouts, applying labels, or confirming information through a keyboard is eliminated. This can reduce training time by almost 70%.
In most cases a new user can be trained and begin using a voice picking application in less than a day, and most become proficient and achieve standard productivity and accuracy rates in less than a week. This is especially helpful for distribution centers that rely on large numbers of seasonal or temporary workers. Reduced training time saves labor costs and also eliminates the time supervisors must spend mentoring new employees.
4) Increased Safety
The combination of heavy machinery moving quickly through a warehouse and multiple workers focused intently on completing their tasks can create a potentially dangerous environment. Traditional picking processes feature dangerous distractions that force workers to focus on paper-based lists or hand-held scanners. With Hands-Free, Eyes-FreeTM voice workflow solutions, workers’ heads are up and their eyes are looking ahead at their surroundings. They are completely aware of any lift trucks, ladders, scaffolding, personnel, or other potential hazards that can cause injury.
Another example of a potentially dangerous warehouse environment are facilities featuring very high racks. Workers risk injury when they have to climb ladders to retrieve inventory located in hard to reach places while holding onto a scanner or piece of paper. Warehouse workers wearing a voice headset have full control of both hands, allowing them to more easily maintain their composure and balance at all times. Gone are the days where workers’ eyes are glued to a piece of paper or a screen and their hands are occupied holding scanners or clipboards. With their eyes free to focus on the task at hand, workers are not only safer, they are also more productive and accurate in completing their tasks. They are completely aware of their environment, including the lift trucks and other hazards that can cause injury.
Many customers have found that because associates using voice workflow solutions maintain a greater focus on their actions and surroundings, company safety records tend to improve.
5) Supports a Multilingual Warehouse
Warehouse workers represent many different countries and speak many different languages. The perception that workers who don’t speak English as their native language or who speak with a heavy accent are disqualified from being productive warehouse workers is completely untrue. Voice picking technology has been optimized for operating in highly diverse settings around the world. For warehouse pickers who can understand a language but struggle to speak it, voice platforms have voice recognition capability that allows workers to hear the system in any of several languages, and respond in another language. Mountain Leverage voice solutions speak to workers in 46 languages and dialects, in a total of 85 different voices. The system can actually understand almost 70 different languages and dialects. Voice recognition software has also been optimized for warehouse workers who are required for health reasons to wear face masks.
6) Happier Employees
Warehouse workers thrive when equipped with tools that allow them to perform their jobs well. Conversely, job satisfaction takes a hit when pickers are forced to use outdated technology. Warehouse employees, like most people, are happiest when they are most productive. This is a key reason why voice picking tends to improve job satisfaction ratings. Although some industry outsiders believe advances in technology turn human pickers into automatons, most warehouse workers disagree. As they get up to speed on the new technology, pickers find that their rate of errors goes down significantly, which actually serves as a stress reducer and motivator in their workplace.