Voice picking technology is used in warehouses and distribution centres to boost picking efficiency.
A voice picking middleware application relays tasks from supply chain systems to warehouse operators using plain and simple language prompts.
Without needing to refer to paperwork or a handheld device (HHT), workers are able to dedicate all their concentration to carrying out the instructions given to them. This has many benefits for workflow within the warehouse, such as increased productivity and a significant reduction in picking errors.
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What is voice picking technology?
Voice picking technology – otherwise known as voice-directed warehousing (VDW), pick by voice, or speech-based picking – is designed to make the picking process more efficient.
It uses voice prompts (instead of paperwork or on-screen systems) to direct warehouse operators to picking locations.
The voice prompts are delivered via real-time communication, using an intelligent speech synthesis voice agent and interactive speech recognition software.
The idea is that warehouse operators can be guided through the picking process without needing to look away from their task. They will not be distracted or muddled by constantly referring to a written set of instructions.
Voice picking technology – or voice enabled technology – requires radio frequency identification (RFID) or WiFi to work. It is typically linked to other systems, such as a warehouse management system/software (WMS), or barcode scanning system. Integration with these systems allows the voice picking software to receive order information and updates on inventory/stock.
How does voice picking technology work?
Voice picking technology requires the user to wear a headset and industrial microphone, and carry a mobile device which supports the voice picking application.
The application uses data provided by the WMS to allocate tasks to pickers on the warehouse floor. It then uses an intelligent voice agent to relay information to the picker’s headset, such as the pick location and the quantity of the item to be picked.
The picker then verbally confirms the instructions into the microphone and the application uses speech recognition software to interpret the response. If the picker’s response is incorrect, the voice application corrects the picker.
Different instructions will require different responses from the picker. For example, if the voice picking application directs the picker to a specific warehouse location, the picker must provide a location confirmation by providing check digits (e.g. several digits of a product code), or use a barcode scanner upon arrival to the correct aisle, section, or bin.
When the picker has completed their task, the voice picking technology will guide them through the next action and even provide an optimised pick path through the warehouse to minimise time spent travelling between locations.
Integration with a WMS allows supervisors and managers to use voice picking technology to oversee activity on the warehouse floor and track where their workers are at any given time.
What can voice picking be used for?
Voice picking technology can be implemented to help automate any manual process in the warehouse. It can even be used on manufacturing and distribution lines and in retail stores to fulfil a retail order.
Voice picking is particularly useful for warehouses with heavy inventory, cold storage, chemicals, hazardous goods, or other environments where workers wear cumbersome PPE. In these environments, having both hands free or gloved is particularly important for the picker, rendering handheld picking devices impractical.
Voice picking can help to instruct workers through the following processes, among many others:
- Cross-docking – unloading products from a truck or transport vehicle, sorting them and preparing them for reloading onto outbound transport
- Pick by line – similar activities to cross-docking, but involves the breakdown of incoming pallets
- Picking to conveyor – picking inventory for placement on outbound conveyors
- Receiving – receiving mixed or full pallets, verifying quantities, identifying damage, and sorting items for putaway
- Putaway and replenishment– replacing items in storage locations after replenishment orders arrive
- Packing – assembling orders that have been picked in multiple sections or batches
- Shipping – loading pallets for route-stop delivery, safety and other inspection steps
- Cycle Count – directing a picker to count a location after they pick from it
Benefits of voice picking technology
The easy-to-understand verbal prompts given by a voice picking system have many benefits for warehouse operations:
- Improvements in efficiency, pick rate and work pace
- Increased picking accuracy; errors reduced by around 28%
- Shorter training time for new recruits
- Increase in productivity due to simpler processes
- Fewer accidents and a safer workplace due to a hands-free system
- Less cost than other systems, e.g. pick to light (PTL)
- Greater employee satisfaction through fewer frustrating processes
Optimise voice picking with ProSKU Cloud WMS
Integration with a WMS Warehouse Management System optimises the efficiency of voice picking technology. A WMS coordinates warehouse operations in all areas, automating processes, collating data and providing reporting functions for use by management.
The ProSKU Cloud WMS Warehouse Management System is a modern, cloud hosted SaaS model that can easily be integrated with voice picking through a strong WiFi connection. It can provide the data needed for the voice picking application to optimise picking routes and streamline the many picking processes.