Can you hear me now?

By: | at 08:00 PM | Channel(s): Ports & Terminals  Logistics  

Warehouses are using voice recognition systems to streamline pick operations and boost their accuracy.By Peter A. Buxbaum, AJOT
In an environment in which companies continually strive to reduce their supply chain costs, warehouse professionals are constantly challenged to reduce labor costs, improve productivity, and increase order accuracy. Order picking is one of the warehouse’s most labor-intensive functions, and, as such, is a key area that companies focus on for automation.
Most errors in the order picking process, according to a recent report from Tompkins Associates, a Raleigh-based supply chain consultancy, occur due to mis-picks, which elevate company costs by way of customer returns. Employee turnover and language barriers also result in a less efficient picking operation.
A growing number of companies are deploying voice recognition technology to help solve these problems and streamline warehouse operations. The speech recognition software communicates orally with warehouse personnel and recognizes their verbal responses. Operators typically wear headsets with microphones, a small computer attached at the waist, and communicate over a local wireless connection with a warehouse management system (WMS)to receive and confirm picking tasks.
Voice technologies facilitate simple communication between order pickers and the central system to speed the process and accuracy of order fulfillment. Many companies are finding that voice-directed warehouse solutions can improve operations and drive costs from the supply chain.
“Voice-directed warehouse order selection has been found to be more accurate and more productive than both handheld scanning and paper and label based methods,” said Aaron Miller, a Tompkins Associates principal. “Users report increases in productivity and accuracy, as well as a direct payback to the bottom line.” According to Miller, companies have achieved reductions of as much as 50 percent in returns, 11 percent in shortages, and 25 percent in mis-picks after implementing voice recognition technology.
Voxware, a leading supplier of software for voice-driven warehousing operations, first introduced a voice-activated pick and pack module in 2009. The Voxware 3 software product is compatible with multiple mobile devices, includes the ability to configure a number of different picking processes, and supports advanced work flows, such as the ability to pass containers when more than one worker is needed to complete an order selection as well as a process that allows for the communication of style, color, and size, important in the apparel industry. In May 2011, Voxware released its latest version of Voxware 3, which introduced advanced management functions, easier integration with warehouse management systems, and support for a wider range of mobile devices.
Dunkin’ Donuts, the coffee and baked goods chain, implemented Voxware at its Mid-Atlantic Distribution Center, which serves over 1,700 Dunkin’ Donuts outlets in eight states. The applications was used to support the gamut of order picking, packing, and loading operations.
“Voxware worked with us to design and implement a picking solution that gives us greater picking accuracy right out of the box, so we were able to redeploy our order checkers into other areas of the business,” said Warren Engard, director of distribution operations at the facility. “In addition, we are getting much higher productivity than in the past, so our cost to move the same amount of goods is less than it was before.”
By hearing prompts on the Voxware headset, and responding in a natural voice, workers get their jobs done while their hands and eyes are free, Engard added. “One result has been workers asking for additional assignments when they have completed work faster than before,” he said.
Overall, the distribution center experienced a 12.5 percent increase in productivity and increased accuracy rates to 99.94 percent as a result of implementing the Voxware technology. It has also streamlined picking operation

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American Journal of Transportation

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Peter Buxbaum has been writing about international trade and transportation, as well as security, defense, technology, and foreign policy, for over 20 years. Besides contributing to the AJOT, Buxbaum's work has appeared in such leading publications as [em]Fortune, Forbes, Chief Executive, Computerworld, and Jane's Defence Weekly[/em]. He was educated at Columbia University.