Although order picking is only one of many steps in the logistics process, it’s one of the most labor-intensive and critical tasks in distribution centers. As about 55% of total operating expenses are typically allocated to order picking it is also the most expensive. With the continuous increase of e-commerce and expectations of close to instant delivery, the pressure is mounting for distribution centers and warehouses to optimize their picking process.
Recently, voice picking technology has emerged as the new standard to help distribution center managers and warehouse increase picking accuracy and efficiency while decreasing costs. Voice picking technology typically utilizes headsets and handheld devices with barcode readers to receive picking instructions and confirm their picks. The voice picking solution then uses voice picking software that integrates with a warehouse management system (WMS).
A voice picking solution will tell fulfillment staff what item to take next, where to place it, and where they should go next. A smart system provides directions for a step and then waits for the user to verbally confirm before moving to the next step.
Another huge advantage is that they are extremely accurate and can also perform audits while picking is taking place. Here are five of the best reasons we think it’s worthwhile considering adding an integrated voice solution to your warehouse system.
1. Increased Productivity
Using two hands is better than only having one available, and voice picking technology enables your workers to use both hands as they won’t have to put down paper or have to find a pen to tick items off a list as they go. It is also not necessary to stop and scan with RF equipment during the process.
This comes in very handy especially when heavy or large items have to be handled. If you’re employing wave and other advanced types of picking, control over picking order and management is also improved, so employees will always move to the best item next.
Companies have reported a higher batch picking rate of between 25% and 40% after switching to voice.
2. Increased Pick Accuracy and Efficiency
Conventional order picking is time intensive as employees need to cross-check each product on the order and then record manually once they’ve picked it. This paper-based process slows order fulfillment, which can impact customer satisfaction levels directly.
Voice picking technology speeds up the process as it provides real-time information on the required items via the connection between the WMS and headset. Once the employee has picked the item, they send confirmation to the WMS via voice input, thereby removing the requirement to key in data manually. Most companies report overall operational efficiency to improve by between 20% and 30% due to them implementing voice picking. Firms also report they’re able to pick 15% to 25% quicker than RF picking and 10% to 15% faster than paper-based picking when using voice picking.
Most errors that happen in warehouses occur on the picking line. When mistakes occur and orders are mispicked, customer satisfaction is affected negatively. When a high number of orders are incorrectly fulfilled as a result of human error, using multimodal picking will help warehouses accomplish better accuracy.
Voice picking technology typically instructs operators clearly and is able to identify errors in real time before they reach the customer. Operators can also issue queries when required and get instant help so they can solve errors while on the move. Voice picking technology typically allows warehouses to achieve accuracy levels of as high as 99.9%. Increased picking accuracy also results in more cost savings as warehouses won’t have to pay the cost of repeat order fulfillment or returns processing.
3. Management Gets Better Metrics
Voice picking solutions deliver a flow of data that managers and leaders can use to review shifts, individual employees, full workforces, warehouse lines, and more. A powerful WMS will give them the information they need to make informed business decisions while also providing a holistic look at the overall operations.
This data can help them manage inventory levels, adjust when order categories or volumes change, maximize picking lanes by redesigning the warehouse layout, and even identify if they should implement a new method like zone, wave, or batch picking.
Select a smart voice picking dashboard that provides real-time data that will help you gather the insight you require to operate a better warehouse and meet high customer and leadership demands.
4. Enhanced Safety
Voice picking systems never obstruct the user’s field of vision. This not only allows team members to use their hands as needed, but it also makes it a lot easier to move ladders or hold onto rails whenever required.
This will ultimately lead to fewer spills, trips, slips, and other accidents. The system will very quickly start feeling natural for your workers and has been designed to ensure their safety.
As they are based on voice, these picking systems are effective solutions to minimize distractions. As mentioned previously, there it is not required to move eyes between different documents, as instructions are issued by voice. Operators can therefore focus on their tasks and prevent risks associated with inattention. Having their hands free is also much safer when using sharp tools or lifting heavy objects. Operators will become much more aware of their environment and act accordingly.
5. Train Faster
Although warehouses face many difficulties when having to hire the required labor, just as costly and challenging is the time required to train new employees on using picking processes that are based on paper. Significantly less training time is needed for voice picking systems, and this minimizes investment as it speeds up the training of seasonal and temporary employees, especially in an environment of high employee turnover.
Voice picking technology typically has multi-modal support, and this gives pickers the option to select touch or voice input depending on their comfort and skill levels. Voice picking also normally offers analytics that helps with real-time decision making. As an employee performs their tasks, their productivity is recorded and this can then be reviewed by managers to inform of potential bottlenecks, identify the need to reallocate resources, and help in managing a team more effectively.