Saving Seconds to Save Hours: Voice productivity in the warehouse

By: Brian Lang, Director of Real Time Logistics, Dematic

Businesses today face many challenges and nowhere is it more prevalent than the supply chain, particularly in the distribution centre (DC), where supply meets demand. Management is expected to contain or reduce costs while supporting higher volumes of goods and improving customer service levels.

Businesses are looking to process higher volumes or a larger number of unique products with the same resources. A major concern for growing businesses is to avoid operational bottlenecks and depleted stock locations, while reducing labour costs.

To meet these expectations, new technologies are often evaluated for their ability to improve productivity and to provide a competitive advantage in the marketplace. While many organisations use a combination of technologies, industry leaders have determined that using a single technology, Voice, can provide significant synergies across multiple workflows for maximum efficiency and productivity.

How does Voice work in the DC?

A Voice-enabled workflow is one where the DC worker is directed via a wireless headset. The operator hears locations, quantities, and other information from the warehouse management system (WMS) and confirms actions with voice commands. Information from the WMS is transformed to speech, guiding the worker through each line of an order, providing item location and quantity required. The worker verbally confirms the location via a number or check digit, located where the product is stored, and then confirms the quantity picked. The Voice system and worker continue through the order list until the order is complete.

The Voice speed advantage

In a Voice-enabled DC, processes are standardised and optimised with human-computer interactions. In these workflows, the computer is issuing a constant stream of directions, and the worker acknowledges receipt and completion. Receiving verbal confirmation of actions taken, while not taking one’s eyes off of the activity performed, increases accuracy. Using one’s hands exclusively to pick items makes a worker significantly more productive. In the end, Voice-directed operations is the most productive and accurate method of work for people who operate in high velocity DCs. Voice delivers dramatic gains in speed and convenience when compared to the use of screens, keypads and handheld scanning devices. Depending on the unique DC environment, typical productivity gains range from 11 to 50 percent or more. These gains can quickly translate into hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual savings.

Voice saves extra seconds

Voice not only increases worker productivity and accuracy, it also provides significant savings in time and costs in other areas. Language barriers, turnover, seasonal fluctuations and the cost of training are a few labour-related issues that often compromise productivity. Because Voice accommodates different languages, and training time takes just a few hours, organisations save significantly on labour costs. Additionally, workers are directed and paced, therefore Voice technology keeps them moving and reduces extraneous time loss. Individual workers may also be monitored for performance so that incentives can be offered for productive work.

Voice allows workers to perform at higher levels with reduced effort. This means they take more pride and ownership in their work. A lower turnover of staff in a DC reduces the cost and time waste of turnover and excessive new-hire training

  Reaping the biggest Voice benefits 

A DC realises the largest gains when Voice is central to the initial design and a driver for process re-engineering. DC processes can be synchronised with one another to reduce bottlenecks. For example, two workflows that use the same type of vehicle (e.g. put-away and replenishment) may be interleaved to make optimal use of the capital equipment and increase the productivity of the drivers. Process optimisation can also lead to savings from picking multiple orders simultaneously or reverse picking to reduce travel time. And because training time is reduced when workers are all working on the same system, they can more readily move between assignments as needed.

Voice-enabled DCs that implement an end-to-end solution realise the highest gains with the lowest overall cost of ownership. This is due to process improvements and synergies obtained from using the same technology across multiple workflows.

An experienced partner is key

The success of any Voice technology integration relies on partnering with an established Voice supplier with a proven track record of financial stability, integrity, support services, and supply chain leadership. A good partner can help Voice-directed work become one of the most important strategic weapons in a company’s national or global supply chain.

Voice is the answer

What really keeps the strategic IT executive awake at night is this question: How can I use technology to boost productivity, make the supply chain more efficient, and maximise ROI? Many are finding the answer to be Voice-enabling their warehouse.

The market momentum for Voice is due to the immediate value provided by the technology and the fact that organisations are able to show quantitative business results within days. For many businesses, rather than an after-thought, Voice has become the starting point for reengineering warehouse processes and systems saving seconds to save hours.

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