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Combine Voice Picking and Zone Routing Conveyor Picking to Increase Productivity

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Dan Hanrahan

July 18, 2023

Pick-to-conveyor material handling and picking systems (pick modules) have proven to be effective in increasing pick rates for both cases and mixed-SKU-each pick orders for decades.

Like many tried-and-true warehouse order picking automation systems, they are still a great fit to increase picking speed, improve space efficiency, and reduce labor for picking and replenishment tasks in fulfillment operations. Pick modules also make it possible to store products more densely and reduce operator walking time so they can spend more of their time on picking.

Pick modules range in size from a single-level to a three-level storage structure based on the building’s height and the need to increase storage space. The storage structure is constructed from racking beams with cross-member structure supports, operator walk decks, and the order transport and zone routing conveyor system.

What is a Zone Routing Conveyor Pick Module?

  • The zone routing order picking conveyor brings the work to the operators who typically work in 1 to 2 pick zones on a level within the pick module. 

This picking method is referred to as person-to-goods due to the operator picking the order to a shipping carton or tote by scanning the carton barcode and is directed to 1 or more orders to the picking location along a gravity conveyor line called a flanker within each zone.

To reduce steps and increase picking speed, slot your SKUs by velocity movement so the fastest-moving products are picked along the shortest walk distance in each zone.

  • Concentrate the highest-moving SKUs closest to the routing transfers by SKU velocity (A, B, C), movement history, and double-slot the fastest movers in pallet positions or carton flow racks. 
  • The slow-mover SKUs are stored in shelf positions upstream of the high movers. This slotting practice reduces the operator’s overall walking time to reach a storage location and complete picks within a pick zone. 

Add Voice Picking Technology to Pick-to-Conveyor for Added Improvement

Voice-directed picking, when combined with zone routing pick-to-conveyor modules, will outperform manual batch order cart or pick-pass conveyor systems. Pick-by-voice systems provide the highest level of picking efficiency and accuracy. Voice picking is fast and easy to use, with voice prompt messages that guide step-by-step actions to direct and confirm each picking step.

Blog: The ROI of Voice Picking

Greater efficiency is achieved when voice-picking technology is coupled with a wearable touch-screen display for hands-free barcode scan validation to keep the operators’ eyes focused on performing the work. The addition of voice makes it superior to a mobile terminal that is used only to perform order picking directly to shipping cartons.

Leverage Pick-by-Voice to Optimize Labor Placement

During slower order demand periods, the voice application software can keep operators busy and maintain picking activities by moving them between zones. Pick-by-voice commands can direct operators to move to the pick zones with the highest demand between two or more zones (each typically covering a 60-100’ length storage area). In this way, voice technology helps to minimize downtime and boost productivity.

Order picking can start at either the first item pick zone or the module order start area. Cartons and totes only visit zones where an item is required for the order. Zone routing decisions are based on a barcode outside the carton/tote to direct the carton travel path.

The conveyor system and voice application can support both the picking and interleave replenishment in the process. The control system automatically reads the barcode, routes cartons, and diverts the carton or tote to the required pick zones. Zones are divided into reasonable sizes matched to the SKU velocity.

Warehouse Execution Software to Optimize and Synchronize all Order Picking Tasks

Numina Group’s Real-time Distribution Software (RDS™), our flagship Warehouse Execution and Control Software (WES-WCS), contains a complete family of automation modules to optimize order release optimization, cartonization, pick by voice and pick to light within pick modules and other warehouse order picking technologies.

The RDS WES-WCS system can: 

  • Pre-determine or dynamically determine carton zone routing for the most efficient route
  • Balance picking across pick zones when high-mover SKUs are slotted in multiple zone locations, and
  • Control the conveyor to ensure that tote and cartons travel only to the assigned pick zones

Additionally, RDS can synchronize and manage picking from zones outside the pick modules for full-case order picking or slow-moving SKUs better suited for storage outside the pick module.

Design Your Warehouse Automation Solution with Numina Group

The Numina Group is a leading systems integrator in the definition, design, and implementation of order fulfillment automation systems that incorporate pick by voice in combination with pick modules, batch cart picking, fork trucks, autonomous mobile robots, AMR Batchbot™ order picking, and goods to person (G2P) solutions.

We take a data-driven design-first approach to warehouse automation to first define leaner, more efficient pick, pack, and ship order fulfillment processes and then, in partnership with the customer, compare and contrast what blend of software and warehouse automation technologies provide the best ROI in reducing labor costs while increasing order throughput at their operation.

RDS™ is a modular, scalable warehouse execution and control system (WES-WCS) that improves performance at existing DCs or new operations. RDS software easily integrates with new or existing WMS and ERP Systems.

RDS’s Pick by Voice module provides voice-directed picking and pack validation along with our industry-leading Pakt™ pack-and-ship automation solution that includes in-line weight and vision inspection, pack sheet print fold and insert, auto and semiautomatic carton sealing with print-and-apply labeling to automate manifesting and streamline the entire pick, pack, ship order fulfillment operation

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