For more than a decade, voice has been implemented into HighJump warehouses to provide users with improved productivity, accuracy, and training times. During the Elevate user conference, Glen Theiss, who has more than 10 years dedicated to voice in the warehouse, walked HighJump users through new uses for voice in the market, benefits HighJump users have experienced, and what makes voice for the warehouse different.
Theiss opened the session by discussing why voice should be considered, and what the main drivers to purchase typically are. “For the most part, there are five major drivers for considering voice: Productivity, accuracy, training time, safety and employee satisfaction,” said Theiss, “but the two dominating factors are productivity and accuracy.”
The hands-free, eyes-free nature of voice allows your workers to move through the warehouse without having to look down and check on a piece of paper or screen for directions. “Voice enables your workers to listen, go and confirm while performing the action,” said Theiss.
Additionally, during a voice implementation the workflows are streamlined to allow for optimal travel paths through the warehouse. Unlike paper and RF where you need to rely on your knowledge of the warehouse to move, voice calculates the ideal pick path. This means your workers can move more efficiently through the warehouse, increasing the ability for them to pick more, faster.
For the warehouses that implement voice for case pick and piece pick improvements, it is common to see a 10-20% increase in productivity. This number can vary, and tends to be higher when voice is extended into other workflows.
While scanning can seem accurate, it opens you up to one major issue: human error. “One of the most common mistakes in a warehouse run on RF scanning is for the worker to go to the correct location, scan the correct barcode, look at the screen to see what to do next, then pick above, below, or to the side of the correct item,” said Theiss. “With voice, workers are able to keep their eyes on the item the entire time, increasing the likelihood of picking the correct item.”
3. Training Time
A benefit that is often understated is the reduction in training time after the implementation of voice. It takes roughly 25 minutes to train a voice template per each user, and then they can be set loose into the warehouse to begin their given task. Although this may seem soon, help is never far away with voice. “If they become confused or need assistance at any point in the process, all they have to say is ‘help’ and the voice software will walk them through their issue,” said Theiss.
Voice allows for workers to move about the warehouse with their eyes up, ensuring they are always aware of what is going on around them. Additionally, the headsets only cover one ear so workers can hear the beeps of forklifts or other hazards as they work.
5. Employee satisfaction
When surveyed after a voice implementation, the overwhelming majority of voice users report being much happier using voice than working with other picking speeds. According to Theiss, voice also removes any limits to a workers productivity. “Workers with voice aren’t dependent on the speed of the RF device or their knowledge of the warehouse. They can move as fast as they can pick and speak.”
While voice is almost always implemented for picking processes first, the use for voice extends far beyond picking. “To some degree voice picking has done itself a disservice by calling itself ‘voice picking’ because it is capable of doing so much more than that,” said Theiss. After picking, companies tend to extend voice into put-away and cycle counting, but it can also be used for receiving, truck loading, and multiple other workflows. On occasion, these workflows can also be combined into one. “We have several customers who have added cycle counting into their picking workflows,” said Theiss. “The workers go through their picking process, and if a unit drops below a set quantity, it triggers a cycle count on the spot.” This process takes advantage of the fact that you already have someone at the location, and provides live updates into your HighJump warehouse management system.
Voice for the warehouse
“As people use voice recognition software in their everyday lives, we get more questions about the differences of voice in the warehouse,” said Theiss. “The biggest difference is the willingness to handle errors. If I have to ask Siri for directions to Panera Bread three times, I find that acceptable. But in the warehouse, every second adds up. You need a solution that is more effective than that.”
At the most basic level, there are two kinds of voice technology: transactional and conversational. Transactional is what most distribution centers will use, as it’s made to handle the high pace, loud, and repetitive nature of warehouse work. Conversational voice, like Siri or Alexa, is made to recognize a broader amount of commands, but needs a relatively quiet environment to be effective.
Voice recognition challenges
When considering a voice implementation, it is important to find a solution that can address the main challenges that come with voice in the warehouse. First, you need a solution that is able to determine what language is being spoken. Next, the solution should be able to overcome any specific accents, dialects, or voice inflection that comes with use in different regions and countries. Finally, and potentially most importantly, you need a solution that can distinguish the difference between a worker speaking and all of the other noises in the warehouse. “A warehouse is a noisy place. You have forklifts beeping, pallets being dropped, and shrink wrap being cut- which oddly enough sounds like the letter ‘s’ to many voice systems. You need to find a voice system that is made to determine and tune out background noise,” said Theiss.
Theiss closed the session by outlining the key takeaways he wanted supply chain execution professionals to walk away from the session with.
- Voice is a proven solution with a large install base, with more than 40 HighJump customers running voice and hundreds more users with other WMS providers. These users are very vocal about the positive results they have experienced while using voice, and are often the biggest proponents of the solution.
- HighJump has the largest install base of any Vocollect Voice partner on the globe, and was named the Honeywell Vocollect’s Partner of the Year for 2017.
- Voice can be used for more than just picking, and are not constricted to the warehouse.