Voice vs Scan - Which Technology Is Best Suited for Order Picking?by Neil Jones on 2010-08-17 17:30:32
Order Picking is the most laborious, sophisticated, expensive, and vital component of warehousing. That is why companies invest heavily in the automation of processes involved here. Today, two technologies lie on the horizon: voice and scan. Which of these two should you pick?
Scanning Technology in Warehousing
A typical order picking system that uses scanning involves a Warehouse Management System (WMS) server, a barcode scanning device, and barcodes attached to product packagings. The process usually starts with a pick list generated from the WMS server and displayed on the scanning device’s screen.
The user then takes the device to the site, scans the bar codes of the products in the list and then enters the corresponding quantities requested. This action automatically updates the data in the WMS. The user then loads the products unto his cart and the process is completed.
Companies who have implemented similar systems have experienced data accuracy rates of up to 99%. They have also found this system far superior compared to traditional methods that use manual data entry and recording.
Scanning technologies, however, have some limitations. For instance, smudges, print qualities, and even lighting conditions can affect accuracy and efficiency. It is not uncommon for a user to aim his scanning device many times before a scan succeeds.
Voice Technology in Warehousing
Voice technology typically uses programs capable of speech recognition/synthesis, a wearable wireless computer, and the WMS. There is no need for additional tags/stickers (as is common with barcodes), since the labels on the packaging are usually sufficient.
You’ll be surprised at the improvements made in voice technology. Accuracy rates of up to 99.9%, which translates to one error in a thousand picks, is the norm. For companies upgrading from a paper-based system to voice, the errors involved in picking are found to be reduced by up to 90%.
Advantages of Voice
One clear advantage here is that, in a typical order picking process, the user can perform his tasks hands-free as he only needs to speak to the microphone or listen to instructions/feedback from the headset. Bar code scanners, by comparison, are more cumbersome since they have to be held in your hand.
Furthermore while a barcode user’s eyes can be preoccupied while aiming the scanner at the label, a voice user’s eyes can be free to inspect other items nearby. This alone can make the process safer and faster. Having free hands and eyes would also allow the user to perform additional tasks (in addition to picking orders) like driving a forklift or lifting a case.
Even employees are happier when using voice as the procedures involved are usually easier to learn and perform. This can substantially reduce training time, which is an advantage if you have high worker turnover rates or are involved in a merger and acquisition.
In other words, not only will you be increasing accuracy, you’ll also be improving on productivity.
What the Future Holds for Scan and Voice
So is scanning technology obsolete? Not exactly. As a matter of fact, it has found its way to the most widely used electronic device today – mobile phones. Today, smart phones are being equipped with bar code scanning capabilities. This is easy because the hardware used is just the phone’s built-in camera.
Thus, warehouse employees can call, send SMS messages, capture images, and scan bar codes with just one device. Another major advantage is that mobile phones can have lots of wireless connectivity options – WiFi, GPRS, 3G, EVDO, and so on. Thus, it would be easy for the device to send and receive data wirelessly from a remote server.
Now, imagine a bar code scanning smart phone that can also receive voice instructions from a headset via Bluetooth. A phone can be carried in a belt clip or holster, so the user can also enjoy the benefits of a hands-free device. The necessary technologies should be in place already, so I guess this is one idea that’s just waiting for developers to translate into code.
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