In the supply chain industry, automation and digital transformation are the keywords of the day. While the demands for consumable goods due to the Covid-19 pandemic became a tidal wave, the analysts in the logistics industry trumpeted about the criticality of digital transformation and AI. Realistically, these are evolving strategies and technologies with varying degrees of maturity that will take quite a bit of planning, internal analysis, resources and, most definitely, financial investment. Conversely, voice automation of workflows can occur in as little as 90 days and provide an ROI in less than 12 months.
Many supply chain folks hear automation and they immediately think of robotics. While there are implementations where this technology can make sense, robotic offerings can be very expensive, take a long time to implement (from 5 to 7 years in many cases) and can be tremendously difficult to scale, or, as many companies found out during the Covid-19 pandemic, not scale at all.
Automating optimized workflows can be a fast, very cost-efficient way of streamlining all types of warehouse applications (picking, packing, receiving, cycle count, shipping, etc.). By adding voice to this automation provides even more substantial benefits, especially considering the powerful features of the devices that run these applications and the steady influx and turnover of employees. Voice picking benefits now must focus on optimized voice automated workflows, hands free, eyes free implementation for worker safety and health concerns.
Voice picking advantages are very easy to quantify and have been positively measured for a long time because – it works. The evolution of the voice picking mobile workforce has added even greater feature richness due to the sophistication of the new Android devices enabling an ROI realized in less than 12 months. Device based voice automation can turn an optimized workflow that takes 45 seconds into a touchless interaction that can take less than 12 seconds. Extrapolate that to multiple workers over an 8-hour shift, that’s real performance metric increases. And, it scales, in both deployment and adding workers.
When warehouses need to increase throughput in existing supply chain models, voice picking benefits scale for three major reasons. Firstly, by implementing voice automated workflows, it can cut down on the time it takes to pick (cases, each’s, static, ultra) substantially, increasing productivity right out of the box. Secondly, it can be deployed one device at a time or a thousand devices simultaneously. This allows for distinct voice automated workflow testing ensuring the best experience and fastest rollout possible. No more turning a big “switch over” and learning a whole new system racked with dependent engines requiring training and expensive change management. Thirdly, training new or temporary workers has never been faster or easier. No more connection at the hip of seasoned workers and slowing them down. Each device can be put into training mode (“what can I say here or help” on any screen at anytime is a huge assist in getting to rate faster and user confidence in the technology) and consequently, sped up or slowed down depending on the environment or individual worker.
Device based voice picking flexibility advantages include an agile development environment that enables changes in minutes, without ever taking any of the workers offline. This capability is enhanced by the scalability of the device-based nature of the technology. It’s easy to try a change on a single or a couple of devices then deploy it out to all workers using a standard MDM. This also empowers the voice enablement of many other mobile warehouse applications (cross docking, receiving, shipping, replenishment, etc.).
Another substantial flexibility benefit of device-based voice automation is that it works on virtually ALL WMS products and applications. Whether your company uses a well-known commercial WMS, WCS or a homegrown system, this capability is a viable, fast technology that can be deployed, and its benefits quantified in 90 days. The evolution of device-based voice technology has made it a natural extension for mobile warehouse applications anywhere and everywhere, no longer limited by a specific ERP or WMS.
There is a lot of current industry coverage presenting the growth of warehousing. This includes more warehouses (smaller for urban, last mile requirements) and huge facilities (at critical transportation hubs and manufacturing plants) requiring new workers and expanding product lines. This market move is forcing innovation and procrastination can no longer be considered a viable strategy. Voice directing and voice automating optimized workflows brings these new facilities up faster, ensuring consistency in the process and an agile path for changes and additional applications to exploit the same voice automated technology.
While robotics and AI are finding their footing, voice automated workflows can work for organizations today. It’s proven technology that’s low risk, high reward with a solid, quantifiably measurable ROI. The technology takes existing SOP’s and automates them providing faster training, increased worker safety (especially now), while providing eyes free, hands free operations throughout the warehouse. This implementation can substantially help circumvent a huge demand crush that may repeat itself in the near future or beyond.