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Supply Chain Graphic of the Week: Looks Like a Multi-Modal Data Collection Future in the DC


In a Change, Most DCs will be Using Both Bar Code Scanning and Voice by 2020, New Zebra Research Finds

April 27, 2016
SCDigest Editorial Staff

SCDigest is still sorting through a major new benchmark study on distribution practices released this week by Zebra Technologies, a follow up to a similar study in 2014 by Motorola Solutions, part of which Zebra acquired later that year.

One of the things that caught our logistics eye after a quick scan of the Powerpoint presentation Zebra sent us, with graphics of dozens of data points from the survey results, was the chart below, on respondents' plans for data collection in distribution centers current and in five years.


Distribution Center Data Capture Technology Usage in 2015 and 2020



As can be seen, traditional bar code scanning dominates now, used as the sole data capture technology by about 77% of companies in 2015. Voice-only was used by 10%, and a combination of Voice and scanning by about 12%.


But by 2020, just one third (33.4%) expect to be using only scanning. Instead, a whopping 56.2% of companies expect to be using a combination of Voice and scanning in their distributon operations, while the percentage for Voice-only remains roughly the same for both time periods.


Now the truth is that this could reflect one of two realities. It could be that these companies will be using scanning in some areas of the DC and Voice in others, applying the right technology (and device) for specific jobs.


But some will clearly be adopting so called "multi-modal" technologies, in which users are given both Voice and bar code scanning capabilities. This is the logical solution, for example, when companies need to capture serial numbers as part of the order picking process. No one wants to speak a serial number into a headset. So the picker is Voice directed to the pick location and confirms the pick via Voice, but then uses a scanner attached to whatever the form of Voice terminal is to capture the serial number.


There are a number of others of similar applications.


Those multi-modal capabilities might even include reading RFID tags some day - if and when RFID finally finds a real place in distribution centers.


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