STATUS REPORT: TECHNOLOGY
As voice software technology continues to evolve, warehouse managers witness ever-increasing levels of productivity and return on investment. Accuracies are increasing as error incidence decreases, and the time required to train new workers is decreasing thanks to the new software technologies. Hands- and eyes-free voice systems allow operators to focus on completing a particular activity with greater accuracy and timelines—leading to increased customer satisfaction.
Whether speaker-dependent or speaker-independent, voice-directed systems simplify, facilitate, and confirm warehouse activities, particularly picking applications. These systems are easy to implement and are cost-effective options, even for smaller companies. The software solutions integrate with rugged mobile devices from major manufacturers like Intermec, LXE, Motorola and others.
Warehouses can expect ROIs in under a year, in general, after deploying voice to their picking operations. Of course, significantly higher ROIs are achievable when voice is implemented in manual operations. Voice technology providers also offer solutions for replenishment, put-away and cycle-counting functions.
Barrington, IL-based TopVOX offers a speaker-independent as well as a speaker-dependent solution and is the only provider in the industry offering both options. TopVOX uses a natural voice, rather than the digitized voices some competitive solutions offer, reports Marceline Absil, vice president of marketing and sales. “Speaker-independent solutions recognize the language, meaning there is no training required because the solution ‘learns’ and quickly adjusts to any idiosyncrasies of a particular worker,” says Absil. Speaker-dependent solutions require training each worker so the software technology can become familiar with a particular worker’s voice.
“Workers can be up and running within minutes using the speaker-independent solution,” Absil explains. “This is especially important during peak periods when warehouses might use temporary personnel. It used to be that companies would not put temps on voice because of the lengthy training involved.”
The company’s flagship product, topSPEECH-Lydia, is compatible with most leading hardware devices on the market—such as LXE, Intermec, and Motorola. “The choice is up to the customer,” Absil says. “We will make suggestions—such as using LXE for picking and Motorola for put-away. But at the end of the day, the customer decides which hardware to use.” The system uses a headset with cable, but a wireless Bluetooth headset—topSPEECH-BlueMaster—is also available for customers wanting to eliminate cables.
The VOXter is a cost-effective solution designed with small and mid-sized companies in mind. “The VOXter is a standard PDA device that does not use proprietary technology,” explains Absil. This device can also be used with VOXter-S, a scanner device facilitating barcode scanning for additional data recording capabilities.
Customers without a WMS or other management system can implement the TopVOX control center, which assigns orders and provides supervisors with an easy overview showing who is picking what, where and when. It is also helpful in identifying workers who might need additional training.
A brand-new feature in the company’s latest release—topSpeech-Lydia 6.0—is the wireless telephony, a globally unique function, notes Absil. This product enables direct voice communication between manager and picker and greatly reduces walking time. This is particularly helpful to managers working in their offices, who can interact with and help workers on the floor who might need additional guidance.