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Focus: RFID and Automated Identification and Data Collection (AIDC)

Feature Article from Our RFID and AIDC Subject Area - See All

From SCDigest's OnTarget e-Magazine

- Oct. 9, 2013 -


RFID and AIDC News: Important Trends in Voice Technology in Distribution


From Increasing Use of Voice with DC Automation to "Gamification," we Look at Four Voice Trends


SCDigest Editorial Staff

As Voice technology in distribution has gone totally mainstream, working in thousands of distribution centers, it has still hardly reached anything like a plateau.

Growth continues to be strong. A recent detailed market analysis by the analysts at Voice Information Associates found that the number of Voice-based terminals grew in 2012 by about 17% over 2011, and that growth is expected to continue at about that same rate over the next five years. That is far faster than the growth rate for traditional wireless terminals in distribution.

SCDigest Says:


Voice provides a solution that offers the best of those traditional alternatives. Pickers have their hands free, and can rapidly put cases on the belt, counting off the number of cartons to the WMS as they do so.

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The ways in which "use cases" for Voice are expanding was nicely captured in a recent supply chain thought leaders video discussion between SCDigest editor Dan Gilmore and Jay Armant, VP of Product Management at Vocollect, (now a Honeywell company following its acquisition of Vocollect parent Intermec) on interesting new trends in the Voice landscape.

That excellent discussion can be found here: Interesting New Trends in Voice Technology in Distribution

The first trend Armant cited is that as many companies are investing to automated their DCs, especially for ecommerce, they are recognizing that Voice can usually be a nice complement to that automation. In the past, it may have been viewed more as an automation versus Voice decision. Now, Armant noted, Voice can be seen as a way to enhance the ROI of the total investment.

For example, Armant said that Vocollect is working with a customer on a pilot program in which a case picker would give Voice commands that would signal the pallet jack to move to the next location, savings the seconds it takes to get on and off the vehicle. Over the course of time, those few seconds for each pick add up to real productivity gains.

Gilmore observed that Voice can add significant value in the traditional batch pick-to-belt process with downstream sortation for case picking. Companies using that approach usually have to select between two unattractive alternatives: (1) Having the picker just count off in their heads the right number of cartons to pick, which frequently leads to costly under or over-picks; or (2) Scanning each carton, which provides the accuracy, but at the cost of a big hit to productivity. (Pick by label is also relatively unproductive.)

Voice provides a solution that offers the best of those traditional alternatives. Pickers have their hands free, and can rapidly put cases on the belt, counting off the number of cartons to the WMS as they do so.

The second trend Armant sees is use of Voice to enhance traceability capabilities, especially in the food sector. He noted that a Gartner study at the beginning of 2013 found that improving traceability was the number two priority of supply chain executives.

He said some companies are starting to use what he calls a "voice pick code" on the label. That four-digit number is tied back to the lot and expiration data information for that case. By simply reading the code into the Voice system when the carton is being picked or perhaps handled elsewhere in the supply chain, detailed traceability can be achieve.

This is important, because cases in the food industry are rarely scanned at the carton level today, and even if they were it would again represent a costly approach given the need to pick up and put down a wireless terminal.

Armant noted this Voice plus pick code approach may become even more pertinent as the requirements for the Food Safety Modernization Act evolve.

(RFID and AIDC Story Continued Below)




The third trend is the use of Voice expanding in the DC. Traditionally, Voice has been used for order picking. Armant says customers are increasingly leveraging their initial investments in a Voice network in a facility and their expertise in using Voice by applying it in other applications.

Replenishment, which really starts if you will with a picking process, seems a natural add-on area. But Armant says receiving, loading, cycle counting and other areas are also beginning to see Voice adoption.

"Companies are still looking to squeeze costs out of their operations, and adding Voice to new areas is one way to achieve that," Armant says.

New integration tools that allow a company to easily map existing RF screens to new Voice dialogs are often enabling these additional applications, Armant added.

Finally, Armant's fourth trend is around what is called "gamification." He noted the huge percent of workers that are probably players of computer/internet games.


The Four Voice Trends


1. Use of Voice with DC Automation


2. Expanded Use of Voice BeyonD Order Picking


3. Use of Voice to Support Traceability


4. "Gamification" in the DC



The idea is to turn a day's work in some cases into a contest of sorts; for example, who handled the most cartons before the lunch break, or whatever. Prizes would be attached to the contests, from large to small, depending on the nature of the game.

While there might be visual "leader boards," information about a contest starting, current standings, etc., could also be provided through the Voice terminal.

"What place am I in?" could become a new Voice prompt.

Gilmore noted that as many DCs are having trouble attracting younger workers, not only gamification itself but likely the use of Voice technology in general would probably be viewed as a better way to work than using a traditional RF terminal. It could be the difference between a younger worker taking a job in one DC over another, he said.

So there you have it - four interesting new Voice trends, as the market continues to expand and evolve.


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