Voice-directed Picking Not Gaining Traction

Pick-to-voice technology has received a fair amount of press in recent years, but it doesn’t seem to have resonated in the operations and fulfillment world according to Logistics Management’s 2011 Warehouse & DC Operations survey.

For the category, “Picking Technologies in Use,” voice-assisted picking with scan verification was used by 5% of survey respondents in 2010 and even less – 3% — in 2011.

Meanwhile, RF-assisted picking with scan verification rose from 37% use in 2010 to 42% in 2011.

“RF picking (w/ scanning) has gotten fairly common, but despite quite a bit of attention voice-directed picking is still not getting any traction,” says Bill Kuipers, president of operations consultancy Spaide, Kuipers & Co.

Kuipers says this validates a project his company recently did where “we found that the existing RF picking (without scan) was actually considerably slower than conventional RF or paper-based picking (average 10 seconds per pick, best case 7 seconds). We could improve the speed a little by going to a hybrid of voice with scan, but at considerable cost for the additional programming and scanners. Instead, we decided to replace voice picking with RF scanning and the time per pick dropped to 4 to 6 seconds. In both cases, the efficiency of the pick is highly dependent on the dialogue that the user must follow (ex. number and sequence of prompts, responses & scans).”

Kuipers thought he was in the minority about pick-to-voice technology. “I’m not surprised based on my own observations, but I thought I was in the minority. Lots of clients consider but ultimately reject it (usually due to the cost of hardware, and the required software integration). It tends to be more expensive than comparable RF Scanning devices

“Plus, you almost always have to buy some sort of intermediate software system, whereas most applications already support basic bar code reading – or can easily incorporate it.”

Kuipers views the biggest problem with pick-to-voice technology is the time per pick. “It usually requires that you label every pick location with a special check-digit label to help accuracy. I still feel it’s something to consider for some applications. It’s certainly intriguing and has been very successful for lots of businesses. It does have advantages. But, it has to be just the right situation, the right hardware/software, and the right user dialogue.”

Nearly 600 people participated in the survey, which included mid-level, upper-level, and senior-level managers who are personally involved in decisions regarding their company’s operations. The research was conducted by the Peerless Media Research Group on behalf of the Supply Chain Group magazine.

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