Merging Totes

Kevin Mun   |    
June 25, 2018

Applying Voice Technology to Illustrate the Benefits of Speech-Enabling the Warehouse

Optimizing warehouses and analyzing distribution channels for enhanced productivity is a continuous challenge. Let’s look at an implementation of voice technology to illustrate how speech-enabling the warehouse, specifically involving picking and tote management, could be implemented.

In our example, we’ll look at picking with totes and merging totes for shipping on a pallet to a destination. Theoretically, this company process has been in place for many years and the team on the floor is familiar with the workflow, while optimized through historical usage and analysis, still includes manual components.

In our sample scenario, items are arranged by pick ticket into totes (Container/Tote Picking). A tote is a container for goods being picked or goods already picked. The warehouse management system directs the orders and determines which items should be picked through a summarized pick ticket. The WMS selects the appropriate selection of items  to pick in groups, and the pickers use the pick ticket to select the items and place them in the totes. Totes are then consolidated to create the final shipment. To ship the tote to the correct location, all the totes going to the same destination must be merged onto a pallet.

A user picks a tote based on a ticket and each order has an assigned tote. When complete, the tote/container travels to the shipping station; and, the person responsible for shipping consolidates the totes/containers onto a shipping pallet to a specific destination.

Workflow Before Voice Enabling

In our sample scenario there are three main stages of work. Here are the steps for the process prior to voice enabling. These include three fields of information in a single shipping screen for warehouse personnel to complete and consolidate totes for shipment.

  1. First, scan the pallet or the tote consolidation location.
  2. Next, scan the tote being placed on the pallet.
  3. Next, determine the location for the tote or the store.

The store or destination for the tote is determined from the ticket. This is a multi-digit code which identifies the destination location and it is retrieved manually by warehouse personnel.

The workflow is to scan the pallet, scan the tote, then type in the store number on the WMS screen presented on the mobile device; and, if all are correct, the system assigns the tote to that pallet and entered into the system as ready to ship.

Once that shipment and order is complete, the screen and prompt then move to the next tote to be scanned, and the process repeats.

The user scans the next tote and checks the store number. If matched correctly, the order is processed, the tote is confirmed and consolidated on the pallet. If there is a mismatch such as an incorrect store being identified, the user receives an error message and must resolve the problem before proceeding.

This process continues until the pallet is full or all the totes for the store have been consolidated.

Opportunities for Improvement

What are some of the areas that could be improved using a voice interface in this workflow for tote consolidation?

  • Manual Processing
    • Users are manually looking up each pick ticket and writing down the store number on the ticket.
  • Error Prone
    • Noisy environments in the warehouse or distribution centers are common with conveyor belts and other equipment. If the user notes an incorrect location or makes an illegible entry, an error condition is triggered.
  • Manual Intervention Required
    • If an error is recognized and the store number is not correct, the team needs to stop and manually lookup the correct tote number to verify the actual store number.
  • Productivity Impacts from This Workflow
    • Downtime and errors in shipping fulfillment
    • Bottlenecks and suspension of work
    • Operational Standards are not being met for the workflow

Workflow After Voice Enabling and Automating the Mobile Workforce

This is a great opportunity to add voice enablement and voice automating the workflow to deliver several significant benefits. Here is a perspective of the same workflow after AccuSpeechMobile is deployed.

  • Scan the Pallet
    • The WMS presents the screen and through the voice interface, the user is asked to go ahead and “scan the pallet”.
    • The pallet number is automatically stored locally for the transaction
  • Scan the Tote
    • Once they have scanned the pallet, voice prompts the user to “scan the tote”.
  • Voice Enabled & Automated Workflow
    Once the user has scanned the tote, with the tote number automatically and correctly captured, AccuSpeechMobile executes the workflow:
    • Automatically look-up the tote number in the WMS.
      (Tote lookup feature is triggered automatically.)
    • Automatically look-up the store number associated with the items in the tote.
      (Keeps the store number available locally during the transaction.)
    • Automatically advance to the next screen location in the workflow.
      The three key values are then inserted for the user:
      • The pallet number is inserted into the first field (pallet number).
      • The tote number is inserted into the second field (tote number).
      • The store number is automatically placed into the third field (store number).
        The store number is also available locally and the user can ask to “repeat the store number”
    • Once the pallet, tote and store numbers are identified and entered, voice prompts direct the user to “scan the next tote”.
      The user can keep scanning until the Pallet is complete or all totes have been processed.
    • The user can speak “pallet is full” or “consolidation complete”. 
      This would signal that the cycle is complete and can now move to the next store or another pallet for the same location.

Benefits of Voice Enabling and Automating the Workflow

This sample scenario illustrates how productivity improvements can be made by deploying voice with automation on the mobile device. There are many benefits that can be realized in this example. Here are some of the bigger benefits that can be quantified.

  • Error Reduction
    • 99% Accuracy is now possible through the elimination of errors around pallet location. If the wrong tote is scanned, users are alerted immediately and can correct the error.
  • Increased Efficiency
    • Time spent manually looking up stores and noting these on tickets has been eliminated as users doing the pick no longer need to lookup each tote and store pair.
    • The overall time required for the workflow has decreased, which will have a positive impact on operational efficiency.
  • Improved Worker Satisfaction
    • The warehouse personnel executing the tote consolidation can work hands free and can execute the process more easily and with significantly less manual interaction on the mobile device.
  • No Complex WMS Changes Required
    • To add voice and automate the workflow, no rewriting or code editing is required for the WMS. There are Zero Code Changes on the WMS server, Zero customization of the Shipping Process on the WMS Server, and no middleware required to integrate voice on any WMS.
  • Rapid Implementation
    • Voice enabling and automating the process will vary depending on each unique workflow; however, for a process described in this scenario, it is possible to implement and move into production in four to eight weeks.
  • ROI
    • While each workflow that is voice enabled and automated will be unique to an organization, it will be possible to see improvements in productivity from error reduction alone; yet, in this sample scenario, additional productivity enhancements are possible simply from automating a manual process in an efficient and rapid fashion.
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