Is Outdated Voice Picking Technology Holding Your DC Back?

Jennifer Maloney
May 13, 2020

Refresh your knowledge on warehouse technology advancements that are now light years ahead of first-generation picking technologies!

All of us who have experienced the computer revolution over the last 30 to 40 years remember Moore’s Law, which projected that the historical trend of advancement in microprocessor technology would lead to the doubling of computing power every 18 months. It may not have been exact, but it wasn’t that far off, considering that the 8 bit Zilog Z-80 microprocessor was state-of-the-art when I got out of college in the 70’s.

Similar to Moore’s law, in the last 18 months, the Android operating system has taken over 32-bit processes for an evolution in the warehouse/distribution computer market. Today, the latest generation mobile wireless wearable computers are equipped with Quad-core CPU’s, 4-8 GB of memory and a multi-tasking operating system that executes software transactions in milliseconds!

These rapid and continual advancements are revolutionizing warehouse productivity.

Warehouse applications such as picking, pallet building, staging, trailer loading control, and data tracking productivity have advanced seven-fold when the latest wearable computers, blue-tooth wireless camera-based barcode scanners and voice picking headsets are used to direct warehouse work activities. They are light-weight, high performance and include long life, hot swappable batteries for extended shift warehouse operations. 

If your handheld equipment is more than 5 years old, you may be missing out on huge warehouse productivity gains.

Is your DC operation still using a hand-held barcode terminal that resembles a brick and has a green screen terminal-based user interface? Does it force the operator to make repeatable stops, switch screens to read instructions, and manually key in data? If the operator needs to scan a barcode, it probably takes both hands and wastes 4-5 seconds for every pick transaction. If so, it’s time to investigate the latest advancements in mobile computing technology.

Zebra Technologies Latest Generation Wearable Computers

Zebra’s entire family of ruggedized mobile computers are designed to work reliably for years with minimal downtime, and they add speed, ease of use and reliability that can’t be overlooked in the quest to improve the DC operation’s productivity. Zebra’s latest generation Quad- Core Android powered wearable computers such as the WT-6000 offer built-in “tap to connect” wireless technology combined with the 5000 series camera based 2-D ring scanner for hands-free pick and pack validation.

Compared to scanners released just six months ago, the new scanners are faster, more accurate, accommodate a range of barcode formats and an extended distance scan range, making the work faster and easier, so more time is spent working.

Zebra’s arm-mounted WT6000 and RS51000 Ring Scanner – 22% lighter weight than previous generation hardware.

New Voice Recognition Technology is Transforming Picking

Pick to voice is another example of a rapid technology advancement in managing warehouse operations, compared to just two years ago. DCs were still investing in first generation voice-only systems that required workers to talk as part of the process, repeating shelf storage location check digits to confirm locations and use other voice responses to acknowledge. This resulted in a poor long-term acceptance by the operators due to voice fatigue and a high occurrence of repeating responses that affected accuracy. These DCs are now upgrading their picking process to multi-modal real-time pick by voice solutions.

Numina Group offers a much more intuitive and reliable picking solution that is built on the latest in voice picking technology and wearable computers. Numina Group’s Android-based voice engine is based on superior technology that uses 8th generation speaker-independent voice recognition software that requires zero operator voice training, so a new operator can be productive in picking within 5 to 10 minutes. 

The voice system takes advantage of Zebra’s wearable computers by improving the operators’ work experience with higher productivity and ergonomics. The WT6000, ideally suited to multi-modal, combines voice commands with a wearable arm-mounted color touch screen for viewing and hearing work instructions. This solution, by providing both voice instructions and allowing the operator to check instructions and view the product SKU identifier or special value add instructions, increases picking performance 30% to 35% when compared to barcode terminals from just 3-5 years ago. Several studies have found that keeping the operator’s eyes focused on the picking task and integrating voice picking technology with hands-free barcode product and lot scan validation results in pick-and-pack validation processes that operate at near 100% accuracy rates. 

Multi-modal voice picking delivers a rapid 12-to-18-month ROI in piece picking, mixed case pallet picking, kitting, medical device, pharmaceutical and nutraceutical and frozen food applications due to its ability to direct the required lot, serial barcode and sell by date capture in real-time with minimal additional labor.

Assessing the true value of equipment investments – old and new

I’ve visited warehouses that still rely on paper or 10-year-old handheld terminals that are no longer manufactured or supported for more than 5 years. It’s understandable to want to maximize the return on even the oldest equipment investments, but if your workforce is relying on obsolete processes and technology, it’s like having them work with one hand tied behind their back!

Labor is expensive and accuracy is king for customer service and profitability. The cost of an error can be $200 or more per incident. In today’s internet world, considering both the cost of errors and the risk of losing customers, no order fulfillment operation can stay in business or compete with faster, more accurate companies.

How a DC Refresh Can Pay for Itself through a Rapid ROI

You owe it to your firm to investigate which leaner, lower-touch process improvements, managed with the right blend of advancements in warehouse technologies will enhance your operation’s performance. When you’re considering warehouse automation, it’s worth having a discussion with an established leader with 30 plus years of warehouse automation expertise, know-how, software and a full family of automation solutions. Numina Group can perform an assessment of your current operation, make warehouse productivity recommendations and implement the right blend of technologies to increase your DC’s productivity and profitability.  Contact a Numina Group expert today!

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