Voice-directed technology is broadening its reach beyond traditional warehouse picking and replenishment applications by clearly demonstrating the benefits it can offer a range of other market segments, writes Philip Jarrett, director of sales & marketing at BEC.
Voice-directed technology first began to be adopted within warehousing operations some 20 years ago, and it has continued to be increasingly used for picking or replenishment tasks within warehouses and distribution centres (DCs). Indeed, over the past two to three years we have seen the expansion of the use of Voice for a number of additional transactions or applications within the warehouse – including put-away, stock moving and stock accounting. Voice’s growing popularity and levels of implementation is perfectly understandable when one considers the benefits it affords – including increased productivity, better time management and greater levels of accuracy.
Moreover, because Voice applications are hands- and eyes-free there are also added health & safety benefits to be had. For example, workers are far less likely not to notice potential dangers such as approaching forklift trucks or trip hazards, which are more of a risk for workers who are reliant on paper-based pick lists or terminals where individuals would be looking at the screen for instructions etc.
As well as observing and being involved in the increasing use of Voice within the warehouse or DC, BEC is also witnessing a growing interest for Voice in less traditional applications. One of these involves a well-known parcel distributor for whom BEC is currently trialling Voice to automate a process that has relied predominantly on a series of manual tasks for many years. The company in question has four DCs around the UK. These receive international parcels and mail, many from Asia Pac countries. On receipt, the packages have to be filtered and then sent to the appropriate local postal office before being delivered to the correct home address.
However, because many of these parcels and letters do not contain the full address or postcode the automated sortation machines often cannot determine which basket or sorting office to send them to. Therefore, one of the daily tasks of a number of the workers is to manually write the correct postcode onto the package. The package is then put into another cage, which is then second-handled by other workers within the DC.
Because of this protracted and time-inefficient process, BEC is advocating the use of Voice so that workers will be able to ‘speak’ the postcode directly into the system. The label will then produce a clearly printed label with a barcode and postcode, which will then be applied to the package before it is put onto the sortation track. In this way, the package doesn’t have to be handled twice in order for it to be correctly addressed and sorted. By using Voice in this way, there are clear time- and cost-savings to be had.
Servicing and testing
Another area of growth for Voice that we are seeing is in test centres. Honeywell, for example, has a service centre for the servicing and maintenance of jet engines. When the engines arrive at one of these centres service personnel historically looked at all the areas on the engine to be serviced, then it would largely be down to that particular engineer’s knowledge and know-how as to how the service or maintenance operation proceeded. These engineers would mainly follow a manual schematic to undertake the required tasks.
A Voice system has now replaced this paper-based approach and instructs the engineer precisely how to go about servicing a particular engine and in what sequence of operations.
Voice ensures that the information the engineer receives at any given time is specific to the part he is currently tasked with inspecting. This makes the whole servicing operation more accurate and significantly more time-efficient. Indeed, undertaking car MOTs is another growing area for Voice implementation – offering similar benefits to the jet engine servicing processes mentioned above.
Within manufacturing, too, Voice is attracting an increasing level of interest for tasks such as product assembly. Building a product efficiently involves ensuring the right materials, parts or components are fitted in the right sequence and in the right place. With Voice, production personnel can work to a proven template of instructions in order to build a product in the required way. This can help eliminate errors while also substantially speeding up the process.
In summary, there are now many proven applications outside of the traditional warehouse environment that are reaping major time, cost, efficiency and accuracy benefits through the use of Voice – and I am confident that we will see ever greater levels of Voice adoption in these markets, together with a host of other industry segments, in the near future.