Voice-activated picking – or as it is sometimes called “hands-free, eyes free picking” – can offer significant improvements in accuracy and productivity that paper-based or RF-terminal-based picking can never match.
Here are some benefits of a voice-directed picking
- Increase picking accuracy, inventory accuracy and employee productivity
- Improve worker safety, by freeing a picker's eyes and hands
- Reduced new worker training time
- Increases job satisfaction for warehouse associates
- Eliminates cost of printing and distributing picking documents
- Increase customer satisfaction
So what should the 3PL operator look for when considering a voice-activated solution? First and foremost is flexibility. That is, the ability to define different sets of voice-activated picking rules for different customers, carriers, consignees, items, orders, locations and warehouses.
Other “must have” features of a robust voice-activated system allow you to define:
- whether or not the operator requests work or the system assigns it automatically
- which inventory level(s) the operator will hear for each pick
- whether or not the operator will be prompted with the delivery location
- which message or messages will be read out to the RF operator for each assignment
- whether or not you want the operator to read back the inventory level as confirmation and the minimum number of characters that must be read out
- whether or not a count back is activated and the rules to follow when the inventory count by the operator does not match the on hand quantity
A good voice-activated picking solution should support manual check digits for each location in your warehouse management system (WMS). Check digits are alternate location codes used whenever the actual location code is too long to be read out by the operator for each pick.
Ideally you should be able to define multiple check digits for the same location and be able to schedule them by day of the week. For example, use check digit 1 on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and check digit 2 on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. This is designed to avoid cheating; that is, the operator remembers the check digit and doesn’t need to go to the correct pick location.
Pre-Built Pallets vs. Dynamically Built Pallets
There are essentially two different pallet building modes in any WMS system: pre-built pallets and dynamically built pallets. Pre-built pallets are built when orders are waved. The pallet build engine will look at the entire order and then calculate the optimal number of pallets. The optimal number of pallets is always the lowest possible number of pallets taking into account your maximum cube and weight rules per pallet and whether or not a single pallet can contain mixed product.
Dynamically built pallets, on the other hand, are built in real time as the RF operator moves through the warehouse performing his or her picks. Rather than looking at the entire order, the pallet build engine looks only at the currently available tasks facing a given RF operator.
So which approach is better? The answer, of course, is “It depends”. In a perfect world, pre-built pallet building is preferred because it will always result in the most efficient picking and the lowest number of pallets. However, in a not-so-perfect world where product in certain locations is missing or damaged, pre-built pallet assignments will no longer be optimal.
Dynamic pallet building, on the other hand, may not lead to an optimal solution taking into account the entire order, but it is more flexible than pre-built pallet building. If there is missing or damaged product in certain locations, the task engine will rebuild your pallet assignments dynamically and there will be less likelihood of incomplete pallets.
So in the end the choice is yours. Do I want to ship the lowest possible number of pallets even if some of these pallets are incomplete or do I want to fully fill orders as much as possible even if the load contains a couple of extra partial pallets