Fast growing order volumes, a higher cost pressure and increasing demands on process quality: logistics companies are still facing the challenge of making internal warehouse processes more cost-effective, more efficient and at the same time less error prone.
But how can the efficiency and above all the quality of intralogistics be increased without having to accept cost-intensive changes to the warehouse structure? The introduction of automated or partially automated systems is a major trend. Nevertheless, automation and the complex reorganisation of infrastructure and work processes might not be the right choice for every company.
Voice-controlled solutions such as Pick by Voice represent a cross-industry and forward-looking de facto standard that contributes significantly to the success of a company. With this software, companies can deploy existing personnel resources in the warehouse cost-effectively and efficiently. In addition, it can be easily integrated into any process chain. Five steps have proven to be the best practice solution for a successful integration of voice technology into intralogistics processes.
The integration of a flexible voice system can save an enormous amount of time and increase productivity by up to 20%. Compared to paper-based picking with an error rate of up to 1.5 percent, the average error rate with Pick by Voice has dropped to 0.08 percent. The minimal error rate and the simple connection of the voice solution to the customer's existing IT infrastructure are decisive advantages. Modern Pick by Voice systems support smooth communication with all common ERP and warehouse management systems, either via direct integration or via suitable interfaces.
In addition, the solutions are of such a high flexibility that they can map industry-specific process flows on the customer side without time-consuming adaptations. And the employees in intralogistics achieve increased process quality in less time thanks to the voice assistance system. Voice has already proven itself in a wide variety of industrial sectors: Retail, automotive, industry and production as well as food and beverage logistics benefit from accelerated processing times and a more efficient handling.
Step 1: Status quo – How big is your potential?
Once a company has decided to integrate a voice solution, the first step is to capture the material and information flows in detail so that an overview of all relevant processes can be created. Important aspects of this approach are also the customer's product spectrum as well as individual business processes that have to be covered by the voice solution. Through the analysis, the specific requirements of the industry and company can be identified and taken into account when implementing the voice application. The goal is also to identify optimisation potential that can be exploited through voice guidance.
Step 2: Process design – How do the systems communicate?
In the second step, the results of the evaluation are used to determine the scope of services, the possible applications and the optimal integration of the voice solution into the business processes and IT structure of the company. In order to ensure the most efficient processes possible, it will be decided how exactly the voice-guided picking process is designed in comparison to the previous process. The program can also be adapted to the processes so that the company can work most effectively with the voice solution. Here it is important to note that the voice solution supports additional input options, especially in combination with barcode scanners, smart watches or tablets.
The use of additional devices opens up further optimisation possibilities for the user. Also, it is clarified whether the process logic of the voice application is located in the leading WMS or ERP system or remains on the side of the voice application. The integration of the voice-guided system into the company's existing IT structure also plays a role for the digitalisation of the processes. Digitalisation should be done in a way that all relevant data is made available in the right form and at the right place.
Step 3: Implementation: This is how the voice installation works
Ideally, pick-by-voice solutions are platform-independent and can easily be integrated into the user's existing IT structure: The voice application is connected to the leading WMS or ERP systems via standard interface modules. Implementation via SAP is even more simple: powerful voice systems offer a direct integration of the voice application into SAP WM or EWM. In these cases, SAP users can even customise the voice application themselves.
As a result, process control remains completely in the hands of the company. A Wi-Fi network for data transmission is a prerequisite for the voice-guided software. The wireless connection does not have to be available throughout the entire warehouse. However, if the process data has to be available in real time at all times, complete Wi-Fi availability in the warehouse area is necessary. Data security in the network must always be ensured. Therefore the voice providers have to cover current security and encryption standards.
Step 4: Which hardware meets your requirements?
The selection of suitable mobile hardware components plays a decisive role in the integration of the voice solution. Among other things, it is checked how the warehouse environment is designed and which processes and requirements make the picked items in the warehouse necessary. In the case of frozen food, mobile voice computers working as voice-only devices are an ideal choice. Since the employees work with gloves and functional clothing at extremely sub-zero temperatures, operating an MDE device is a major challenge.
The mobile voice computers are controlled only by voice commands and can also be used under difficult conditions. In many cases, however, MDE devices or multimodal devices with integrated scanners and displays are a valuable addition to voice applications. Depending on the type of product and the requirements for continuous documentation of the supply chain, they can be used to precisely record extended data such as batch numbers, serial numbers or best-before dates.
A cost-effective alternative to MDE and voice computers are consumer devices with Android or iOS operating systems. Mobile devices such as smart watches can, for example, be used in order picking as an additional display for employees. In many cases, existing mobile computers can also be used in combination with the voice software. To communicate with the voice system, the employees use a headset with microphone and a loudspeaker or a picking vest in which both components are integrated.
If heavy and bulky items have to be moved or if a lot of physical exertion is required, the vest offers an alternative to the headset. A decisive advantage of the order picking vest is the ergonomics of the hardware, as no physical one-sided loads arise as with scanner-based order picking. The MDE devices are usually operated with one hand, so that the users repeatedly bend in one direction, for example to scan storage locations and article barcodes. These actions are no longer necessary with the voice application, as the process-relevant data is exchanged via voice dialogue.
Step 5: Let's get started – software and hardware in practical use
Voice solutions ensure a smooth system introduction for the employees. At the beginning, order pickers are given a brief introduction to the use of their voice hardware and the voice dialog process. With modern solutions, additional speech training is not necessary and there is no need to create an individual speaker profile, as the technology is speaker-independent and does not require training. The employees simply put on the headset or put on the picking vest at the start of work and then follow the voice instructions.
Especially with a heterogeneous and strongly changing range of articles, the use of voice pays off. Pick-by-Voice solutions should also support a large number of languages so that the software can be used in a standardised manner on an international level. This enables additional temporary employees to work productively with the system in their native language within a very short time. Order fluctuations, for example at seasonal peaks, can thus be handled effortlessly without time-consuming and cost-intensive training phases for new employees.
Voice guided solutions for other business areas
The integration of a voice solution requires a low overall use of resources, and the collected data and streamlined processes can provide a major benefit for intralogistics processes. Voice solutions can also be used in many other areas of a company. In the future, the use of voice-supported employee management can therefore be expected to increase outside the logistics sector: Possible fields of application are quality control of products or testing processes, for example in the automotive industry.
If you want to learn more about the advantages of voice-guided order picking and our voice solution in particular, you can read more at the following address: Lydia Voice Suite.