6 Myths about Voice in the Warehouse
Mar 12 2014
Voice technology in the warehouse is becoming a dominant force in warehouse operations, experiencing a rapid rise in adoption globally. In spite of impressive and quantifiable benefits to business, some of the old myths and misconceptions about voice in the warehouse still exist….
But first – What is a “Voice-enabled Warehouse”?
In a nutshell – Staff on the shopfloor wear headsets connected to a small computer or RF device. Verbal prompts generated by the warehouse system tell the worker where to go and what to do, and workers confirm their tasks by speaking pre-defined commands printed on locations or products throughout the warehouse. Speech recognition software “understands” workers responses.
6 Myths about the Voice in the Warehouse
Voice is revolutionising warehouse operations worldwide, yet for those who have not experienced the benefits of voice in the warehouse, some significant myths still exist.
Myth #1 – It’s Too Costly
The concerns here are related to perceived cost of equipment and cost of integration. However, since its birth in the 90’s the cost of voice in the warehouse has declined dramatically due to a range of factors.
Reality – Reduced cost of integration
- Reduced WMS requirement: there is now wide range of options for integration that don’t require a rich WMS, with the best voice technology providers offering proprietary software to ease integration.
- Ease of integration – dramatically reduced or even completely removed requirement for customisation of existing ERP/WMS platforms.
- Integration tools – barriers to entry for voice have been removed with the introduction of integration tools that greatly simplify the process
Reality – Reduced Hardware costs
- Hardware is continuously dropping in price and growing in power.
- Voice software technology has evolved to reduce the hardware requirements. For example you can now utilise certain models of RF devices to deploy voice without having to replace fleets of RF devices and incur additional investment costs.
- Reduced cost of maintenance – the top providers offer repair programs that are at very competitive rates and guarantee rapid-response turn-around times.
Myth #2 – Integration is Difficult
One question that companies frequently raise is around ease of integration. Businesses using a home-grown warehouse management system or legacy WMS fear that they lack the piece of the jigsaw to integrate a voice system to theirs and significant investment will be required as a result. Users of bigger scale ERP systems also fear the difficulty and cost of integration, which is added to by the perception that they may need a whole new WMS system. While this may have been the case many years ago, today’s top solutions are far more flexible and easy to implement. In fact, the reality is that businesses report that the integration path of the right voice system is fast, and some would say, even close to “turn-key”. And for M3 system users, the story gets even better, since the system’s open system architecture internal business logic facilitates even easier integration.
Myth #3 – New and Unproven Technology
This myth is one that truly needs to be ‘busted’. In reality, voice systems are an established technology with robust proven equipment. Far from Voice Recognition being hard-to-use or unreliable, the technology is now at a point where the best technology employs sophisticated self-training technology meaning that the system actually improves as it goes – attuning to individual user’s voices and delivering ongoing speed and accuracy gains. (It should be noted that this contrasts dramatically with other offerings in the market such as Siri and IVR call centre solutions, which may be prejudicing people’s perceptions). The leading voice providers offer impressive ‘speech-training’ systems which allow the system to identify the operator’s unique nuances in speech and pronunciation of words. The technology looks for reverberations and tonal sounds far in advance of earlier and lesser solutions. Due to this fact, training time is significantly reduced compared to that of RF.
Myth #4 – Not Enough Business Benefits
The most impressive aspect of voice systems is the rapid and significant ROI experienced by businesses. The top voice solutions routinely deliver sizable and quantifiable improvements in a short period of time. Improvements are most dramatic in accuracy and productivity. Voice in the warehouse has a strong record of performing at accuracy rates of 99.9% and bringing operational productivity from 15% and upwards with ease. Because workers are directed by the system, and with a check/confirm work process, the margin for error quickly drops. At the same time, because staff can complete options simultaneously the speed of tasks rises dramatically. It’s very telling that businesses who implement voice solutions are quick to broadcast their positive experiences publically – just do a quick search on Youtube to see for yourself. Businesses who implement voice in the right way achieve greater value from their ERP and WMS investments, being able to innovate and improve workflow performance. Due to overarching improvement in efficiency, many businesses report that voice systems pay for themselves in a matter of months.
Myth #5 – My Current Methods Work Better
Actually – they don’t. One of the great productivity benefits of voice systems is that operators can do 2 things at once, where other media in the warehouse such as paper or RF (radio frequency) devices tend to require that users surrender the use of at least one hand, or stop and read something before proceeding, or worse, drive a forklift with one hand while referring to a device or paper. Not to mention taking their eyes and mind off the pick-face to interact with the other media.
With the right implementation, paper and RF picking processes will be beaten by voice by significant and quantifiable percentages – up to 25% faster, 50% quicker to train, and a reduction in errors. In fact as long as system inputs are accurate, the accuracy of voice-based system is generally expected to be in excess of 99%.
Myth # 6 – The Workers Will Hate It.
This is one of the biggest misconceptions. In reality people on the floor love using voice systems, for some pretty impressive reasons. The key reflection you will hear again and again is that it allows them to do their job better. They are faster, more accurate, deliver inmproved KPI’s and report a far higher job satisfaction rate. In addition to this are the undeniable benefits that using a “hands free/eyes free” system dramatically improves their work environment. Forklift drivers are able to keep their eyes in the right place instead of toggling between a work sheet/RF devices and the shop floor. Pickers and packers who juggle an RF device while lifting packages are freed up to do the job in an easier way.
Voice-enabled warehouses are here to stay. Good solutions are cost-effective – improving accuracy, productivity, and delivering rapid and significant ROI. They can be integrated seamlessly into existing systems, and mean a fluid, safer workplace and are suited to any size business, from single warehouse operators to multinational operators. It’s one of those game-changing technologies which becomes routinely adopted by any business wanting to stay competitive.
To find out more about voice-enabled warehouses, give us a call or send us an email.