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The Rise of Voice-Picking Systems

The Rise of Voice-Picking Systems

The last couple of years have posed significant challenges for logistics and supply chain companies globally. The pandemic triggered a surge in e-commerce and saw the onset of The Great Resignation, both of which heightened the demand for warehouse labour while simultaneously depleting the workforce. This situation drastically affected order fulfilment, leading to shipment delays for both retailers and consumers. Efficient product movement is crucial to maintaining customer satisfaction, which is integral to successful business operations today. Ensuring a smooth order fulfilment process is, therefore, paramount.

The Competitive Edge of Automation in E-commerce

The e-commerce sector grows more competitive daily, compelling companies to invest in automated warehouse systems to stay ahead. As warehouse management systems (WMS) and the Internet of Things (IoT) evolve, the shift from paper-based picking to automated systems has quickened. Increasingly, companies are adopting voice-picking systems to optimise warehouse operations and gain a competitive edge. The voice-directed warehousing market is projected to grow from $1.4 billion in 2020 to $4.8 billion by 2031.

Understanding Voice-Picking Systems

Voice-picking systems are paperless, hands-free solutions using speech-recognition and natural language processing software to guide workers in executing picking tasks. These systems boost efficiency, accuracy, and throughput in warehouses and distribution centres. Integrated with WMS, voice-picking systems direct pickers to specific warehouse locations and instruct them on the products to pick to fulfil orders.

Since the early 1990s, voice-picking systems have revolutionised warehouse operations by allowing workers to operate hands-free. Initially, these systems used user-dependent speaker recognition software, requiring workers to record voice samples. These samples were loaded into an internet-connected voice server, a costly and cumbersome process. Modern systems use user-independent speaker recognition software, which can interpret multiple languages without needing voice samples.

Voice-picking systems provide a viable alternative to paper-based processes, enhancing efficiency while improving worker safety and health. Compatible with various wearable technologies and mobile devices like smart glasses, wearable barcode scanners, and IoT-connected sensors on mobile racks, these systems streamline warehouse operations.

How Voice-Picking Works

Voice-picking involves several key steps:

  • Device Setup: Pickers wear a mobile device, typically a tablet linked to a headset and a barcode scanner, which can be attached or worn.
  • Order Reception: The picking system receives orders from the WMS, records them, sequences them, and releases them for fulfilment.
  • Task Communication: The voice-picking device communicates picking tasks and inventory locations to the worker.
  • Location Confirmation: The picker confirms the location and bin number verbally.
  • Inventory Confirmation: The system verifies the picker’s location and provides the correct quantity of inventory to pick.
  • Order Completion: The picker confirms the quantity and proceeds until all tasks are complete.
  • Voice-picking is widely used in warehousing for various processes, including order picking, replenishment, returns, receiving, truck loading and shipping, packing and consolidation, put-away, and cycle counting.

Advantages of Voice-Picking

Voice guided systems offer numerous benefits that address common warehousing challenges:

1. Hands-Free Capability

Voice-picking eliminates the need for pen and paper, enabling employees to focus solely on order fulfilment. This reduces picking errors by nearly 67% compared to manual methods. In cold storage facilities, where workers wear gloves, voice-picking allows them to operate without removing protective gear.

2. Pick Path Optimisation

Voice-picking systems analyse warehouse operations, including picker pathways, to optimise routes. Factors such as pick path direction, product dimensions, warehouse traffic, fulfilment destinations, and delivery timelines are considered to ensure efficiency.

3. Accurate Voice Recognition

Advanced speech recognition software in voice-picking systems ensures accurate interpretation of commands, even accounting for ambient noise and accents. These systems can recognise individual workers’ voices, creating profiles for each employee to improve accuracy and efficiency.

4. Multi-Language Support

Voice-picking systems support multiple languages, allowing workers to use their preferred language. This not only boosts productivity and safety but also helps non-English speakers build language skills, enhancing their career advancement opportunities.

5. Real-Time Updates

Voice-picking technology provides warehouse managers with real-time inventory insights, allowing them to anticipate delivery outcomes and make order changes promptly. Managers can alert pickers of updates directly through the system, maintaining uninterrupted order fulfilment operations.

6. Cost-Effective Employee Training

Voice-picking systems facilitate remote employee training, enabling new hires to explore the warehouse and learn the system independently. This reduces the need for experienced workers to leave their tasks for training, maintaining higher order fulfilment rates.

7. Improved Occupational Safety and Health

The hands-free nature of voice-picking technology minimises distractions, allowing workers to focus on their tasks. This increased awareness reduces safety risks associated with handling materials in warehouses.

Outdated picking solutions are a significant challenge for warehouse managers. With the rise of e-commerce, fulfilment centres are adopting voice-picking technology to gain a competitive advantage. Optimal productivity and efficiency are crucial in the face of labour shortages and increased order volumes. Voice-picking systems optimise the workforce, reduce labour costs, and improve delivery times, leading to enhanced customer satisfaction. By enabling hands-free operations, these systems also enhance worker safety and health, making them a vital tool in modern warehousing logistics.

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