Hearing Is Believing

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


ROI should consider soft costs associated with voice-directed systems, suggests Engemann. “The three main drivers folks look to for ROI include productivity, accuracy, and training time. But look at the soft costs. For instance, as a picker arrives at an empty picking location, he has the option with Aldata’s Voice Directed Warehousing (VDW) product to optimize the situation by shorting the order or skipping that item. The system will ask why he is chooses to do either option. If the worker reports zero quantity in the picking location, a true enterprise voice application like Aldata’s VDW will alert the WMS to replenish. Then the picker will only be sent back to that location to pick the required number of product when the bin has been replenished. Now you are getting into the true efficiency of a real-time information exchange between the WMS and the end VDW voice user; because in the past, another order fulfiller would have to complete the order. This is an example of how soft costs can help you build on your ROI.”

Off-the-Shelf Packaged Software

What makes Voxware unique in the industry is that it offers an off-the-shelf packaged software product, reports Scott Yetter, CEO of the Hamilton, NJ-based company. “We used to ask what customers wanted and then we went and wrote the solution for them. But we have invested a significant amount of money building an off-the-shelf solution that gives customers the ability to configure it and make minor changes quickly, according to their requirements. We deliver the same set of code to everyone in our flagship Voxware 3 product. This reduces implementation time and also reduces the implementation risk.”

Some competitors require customers to operate a particular version of their software to interface with the WMS or other management system. “We made our product standard across all different operating environments, multiple workflows, applications, and devices,” explains Yetter. “Having this capability from one packaged set of code provides tremendous economies of scale for us and for our customers.”

The system allows customers the option to use voice or scanning when receiving a pallet, for example. “Some companies prefer to use voice, while others prefer to scan the pallet. Customers can do either without having to change the code, so anything you can voice you can also scan.”

The food industry is a relatively low-margin business, reminds Yetter. “So anything you can do to increase productivity goes right to your bottom line. We see productivity gains anywhere from 10 percent to 20 percent and errors are reduced by 50 percent. If I can help customers with 99.2 percent accuracy take that to 99.8 percent or 99.9 percent accuracy—given the number of picks they have in the warehouse—that amounts to a significant amount of money. If an error costs you $70 a pop and you go from making six or seven per 1,000 to just two or three per 1,000, this is significant.”

Process Optimization

For Wexford, PA-based Lucas Systems, the approach to helping customers discover the best voice-directed solution is through process optimization, says Chris Sweeney, senior vice president. “We examine opportunities to leverage second-generation technologies like multi-modal capabilities in the devices we sell from companies like LXE and Motorola. So customers don’t have to use a special-purpose piece of hardware, which in the early days was expensive. Instead, customers can leverage an open platform, typically running Windows mobile.”

Sweeney believes customers can achieve higher ROIs through process optimization. “The question becomes how can customers make changes to their processes; can they do something different in batching orders to dramatically reduce travel time in the warehouse, for example. Are there activities they can interleave like cycle counting with picking—and put-away with replenishment—to increase the associate’s efficiencies. We look at these things as ROI drivers.”

Process optimization and a lower cost of ownership results in the greatest gain for customers using versatile hardware devices which are getting more cost-effective, Sweeney says. “In addition to voice-recognition capabilities, they have a built-in scanner, screen, and keypad. Down the road, these devices will probably add things like RFID read capability. So these devices allow users to optimize the voice application, which can include the use of scanning or screen, while providing multi-use functionality. This means companies can use the same hardware device for a traditional RF scan for shift one and a voice application for shift two. This multi-use offers companies a lower cost of ownership.”

The good news for smaller companies is that this summer Lucas will be launching a special version of software specifically tailored to the foodservice industry. “It is an adaptation of our base software which we deployed in a number of foodservice and grocery accounts,” Sweeney reports. “It accounts for some of the subtle things that matter—such as the ability to scan a catch weight.” This will be a plug-in capability.

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