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From SCDigest's OnTarget e-Magazine

- Aug. 19, 2014 -


Supply Chain News: Busting Myths about Voice Technology in the DC


Noisy Environment? No Problem Today, Experts Say, Debunking that and Other Myths


SCDigest Editorial Staff

Voice technology in distribution has clearly moved well into the mainstream, with thousands of companies across virtually every sector gaining benefits from the hands- and eyes-free capabilities Voice technology provides in order picking and beyond.

What keeps even more companies from jumping on the Voice bandwagon? Often, it is one or more myths surrounding the technology, says SCDigest editor Dan Gilmore. Gilmore and Jay Armant, VP of product management at Voice solution providers Vocollect by Honeywell, served as Voice "myth busters" during a recent Video thought leaders discussion.


SCDigest Says:


Voice provides an excellent middle ground, Gilmore said, and could allow a picker to simply count off into the Voice headset each case that is picked.

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The first myth discussed was the belief by some that Voice won't work well in noisy DC environments – and what DC doesn't generate a lot of noise today, from horns beeping to conveyors rolling to pallets slamming to the concrete?

Such noisy environments may have caused Voice providers some challenges 10 years ago, Gilmore said, either making it hard for the Voice recognition software to understand a user's Voice response, or causing the system to think there was a response when there wasn't one (an "insertion").

But those days are long gone, Gilmore said, especially with technology developments in recent years. To support that claim, he played a video clip that SCDigest had taken at the MODEX show in Atlanta this past March, which featured a "Sound Booth" demonstration at the Vocollect exhibit.

Vocollect used a tablet-based application that contained a number of common noises found in a DC. The app allowed a Vocollect manager to bring in those sounds and increase their volume, to the point where it was quite noisy inside the booth, as booth visitors could see from monitors tracking the decibel level inside.

But despite all the noise inside the booth, the Vocollect manager was able to respond to Voice prompts perfectly, and speakers outside the Sound Booth played the Voice commands quite clearly, with almost none of the replicated DC noises from inside the booth coming through.

How is this possible? In Vocollect's case, the answer is the company's new SRX2 headset, which features multiple microphones along the outside of the headset that capture these extraneous noises and filter them out, so that the user's Voice comes to the recognition systems nice and clear. That microphone technology is augmented by software in the Vocollect system that also does filtering and significantly reduces the amount of insertions from DC noises.

"We design our solutions specifically for industrial environments, high noise environments," Armant told Gilmore.



Voice Won't Add Much Benefit after Advanced WMS Deployment

The second myth addressed was that the potential Voice benefits are diminished if a company deploys an advanced WMS and using sophisticated techniques, such as cluster picking, something Gilmore said he has heard distribution managers say.

This is simply not true, Gilmore says, noting that the productivity benefits of hands- and eyes-free operation are there regardless of what level of underlying WMS support a company has.

"You will often see double digit productivity gains even if you are using very advanced picking methodologies," Gilmore said.

(RFID and AIDC Story Continued Below)




Armant added that leading companies are increasingly using Voice in areas outside of picking, such as cycle counting, returns, cross docking and more, generally also seeing productivity improvements of 15% or more, even if those areas are also supported by an advanced WMS.

Gilmore noted that of course leading WMS companies with all these sophisticated capabilities have all jumped on the Voice bandwagon, with generally strong support for a direct Voice integration in order picking and beyond.

Voice and Material Handling Automation

Another myth cited by Gilmore and Armant was that companies adopting a high level of material automation in their DC operations may not have much need for Voice.

Again, not true, said Gilmore.

For example, he cited what he believes is a "killer app" for Voice in an automated environment, and that is batch "pick to belt" applications for downstream carton sortation. In these systems, orders across a wave are grouped, so that an order picker only has to go to a location one time and can select all the cases across every customers in the wave, placing them on the belt. The results is a significant productivity gain by reducing travel time.

Batching orders together often results in a large number of cases that need to be selected at any given location. And here is the challenge: the system could require that the picker scan each case as it is picked, but that is a real drag on productivity. Or, the system could rely on the picker keeping count of how many cases he or she has placed on the belt, but history suggests they will often lose track and pick too many or too few cases.

That leads either to "rejects" when there are too many cases, or expedited process to go back and get additional cartons when there are too few - both expensive activities.

Voice provides an excellent middle ground, Gilmore said, and could allow a picker to simply count off into the Voice headset each case that is picked. The system would communicate back when all the cartons for that location have been places on the belt. On top of that, you again gets the benefits of hands- and eyes-free, further enhancing productivity over using an RF terminal or pick by label for the task.

Armant noted that even in semi-automated environments, companies are finding creative ways to use Voice. For example, when picker s are using pallet jacks, they must continually get on and off the vehicles, which takes a big bite out of potential productivity.

Armant said some Vocollect customers are using Voice to move those pallet jacks without the need to get on and off. So for example, after a pick at one location is complete, the Voice system sends a command to the pallet jack to advance to the next location.

Gilmore and Armant both noted that the ROI from automation in the DC can sometimes be challenging and that by using Voice where it makes sense around the automation it often can make the total return from the project more attractive to companies.

Three Voice myths busted - in Supply Chain Digest.

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