Giving Voice A Voice

Pierson Broome, business development manager for Aldata Solution, a leading provider of software solutions for the global retail industry and voice technology pioneer, puts the case for voice automation and how it can be adopted by UK retailers and wholesalers.

Retail and wholesale distribution organisations are looking to mainland Europe, where voice automation projects are delivering major benefits and impressive ROI – for example, a pick rate of as many as 180 cases per hour against less than 50 in warehouses without voice automation.In the warehouse benefits include more efficient quality inspection, cross-docking, order pick, cycle counting, and improvements in logistics performance and warehousing productivity. And for the retailer, rapid picking means faster replenishment, better response to customer demand and fewer out-of-stocks during promotions.In the key area of picking, costs are saved through eliminating paper picking lists and labels; faster replenishment of picking faces, optimal use of forklift trucks, and a reduction in re-picks or waiting time due to empty pick faces. More accurate stock recording also saves time normally lost through the investigation of stock discrepancies.Looking in more detail, a business case from continental Europe shows that productivity in terms of time to pick products can be improved by 5-20% for dry goods, by 30-40% for weighted goods, and 30-60% for hanging garments compared with manual processes.

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These impressive benefits are derived through better picking control to give an 8-10% reduction in error rates.In the UK, there is still a strong focus on radio frequency and yet voice automation has been proven to be far more productive with an ROI potential of around six months.Now, the pioneers are not only rolling out voice automation systems, but integrating them into the wider supply chain, integrating with distribution and replenishment systems and processes, for greater efficiencies and response to customers.DeploymentA typical project to develop and implement systems is very rapid. Most voice systems will work across existing 802.11b/g standard wireless networks, which the majority of large warehouses will already have in place.

Deployment is straight-forward because staff only require around two hours training before they are fully competent to use the equipment, and only 3-5 consultancy days are required to map the warehouse to handle voice picking. Staff welcome voice technology because it can be shown that there are less accidents where hands and eyes are both kept free.The training time for new pickers is reduced by the use of voice, as a voice directed task is easier to learn than interpreting a paper task. Training time can often be reduced by as much as half.FutureThis is only the start. The business case currently being put to UK retailers must include the wider benefits.

By integrating voice into the supply chain as a whole, the technology will provide huge benefits in terms of productivity and logistics performance.