Hearing Is Believing

Voice-directed warehousing technologies optimize operations, reducing error incidents and offering savings in time and cost.


At Pittsburgh-based Vocollect, the approach is consultative, explains Mike Miller, senior director of consulting services. “We look at a customer’s business, their metrics, and their pain points,” he says. “We never lead with a technology or with a commodity mindset, choosing instead to lead by eliminating pain points. We want to provide the right tool our customers need for their unique requirements so they can maximize their ROI.”

Every warehouse receives, stores, selects and ships product, regardless of the size of the organization, says Miller. “The dynamics associated with an operation really directs whether we would suggest a screen as part of the solution, or if we would suggest a voice-only solution. For instance, if someone is doing research for an inventory control function and wants to see a reserve list of all products, putting that information on a screen would have value. But in a typical selection environment, it is really a matter of directing a worker to a location and validating he is in the right location and then telling him what to pick and having that validated.”

Vocollect’s new voice-centric solution set represents significant new software offerings, allowing workers to increase the workflow pace dramatically, reports Miller. “Voice recognition is very critical because you want to make sure the system knows exactly what the user is saying and he needs to understand what the system is directing. Even a one-second delay in understanding on the part of either party can result in cumulative losses in time that can amount to anywhere from $400 to $2,500 a year per each worker just because of those minor delays.”

When we caught up with Miller, his company was demonstrating a receiving application at a user conference. “We have an individual working with our new A500 voice appliance and a Bluetooth headset, our SRX unit. He has a display on his arm and a ring scanner on his hand. So he is prepared for the receiving environment, where there could be a lot of exceptions that might occur. For example, there might be SKUs on the truck that shouldn’t be there—or there could be an overage in the quantity. Having a screen in cases like these could make the workers more comfortable because they can see the entire purchase order and all of the SKUs involved in an order.”

Cost of ownership should also be considered, Miller advises. “We don’t focus solely on accuracy and productivity gains. We also consider the reduction of training time and the reduction of safety issues and workers compensation issues. From this broader perspective, there could be savings in clerical and administrative costs. Implementing a solution could also impact a reduction in cycle counting and the timing between replenishment and selection could improve. The delivery process might be faster because there is a reduction in the check-in process at the store level.”

Multi-Modal Capabilities

Atlanta-based Aldata offers a speaker-independent voice-directed warehousing solution using the Nuance speech-recognition engine. “We have taken voice to the next level, which is speaker adaptive,” says Mark Engemann, national accounts manager for voice-directed warehousing. “Once a person logs onto the system, it listens to the person’s voice and adapts to their voice and to their annunciation, getting better and better as it works with the person. Aldata works effectively right out of the box without training.”

Aldata’s multi-modal capabilities enhance the user experience as workers use a screen, keyboard, and barcode reader. “Operators need to learn how to use the one device in order to perform multiple levels of voice-directed operations,” says Engemann. “Associates can now adapt to all of the intricacies of warehouse operations. For instance, as a pallet comes into receiving, instead of having to read the pallet license plate code, the worker just has to scan the license plate and the system takes over, recognizing the license plate and directing the associate where to put the pallet.”

Engemann says that Aldata’s approach is to meet the market head-on by offering adaptive solutions. “We offer multiple ways to perform warehouse activities and to inform warehouse managers and operations managers that products are being traced, tracked, and controlled consistently.”

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