Taking Voice To The Next Level

Voice technologies are being applied throughout facilities to maximize productivity.


What if your warehouse workers could complete every operation in your facility with just one device? That is the goal of the food industry after the successful results it achieved in utilizing voice technology in picking/selecting operations. Costs are now within reach and companies are looking toward integrating voice with other technologies for use in warehouse operations including put-away, loading and replenishment, receiving, and loading pallets onto trailers.

Integrating various technologies into one device offers powerful capabilities, totally enabling workers to use the most appropriate technology for the task at hand. "We have standard product out there now addressing many applications including replenishment, put-away, and bulk transfers," says Larry Sweeney, vice president of product management for Pittsburgh-based Vocollect Inc. As equipment ages, warehouse managers plan to replace those systems with voice technologies.

Multi-modal is the new frontier in to-day's highly engineered environments. "Customers want to be able to leverage the same device or terminal they're using in other parts of the warehouse for voice applications as well," says Jeff Slevin, COO, at Lucas Systems in Sewickley, PA.

Lucas Systems delivered its first voice solution on multi-modal terminals nearly three years ago and currently has several dozen customers under contract to do the same, ranging from single-site operations to multi-site rollouts including grocery chains and foodservice distributors. Jennifer is Lucas Systems' voice-based warehouse logistics solution, which uses recorded speech in order to sound like a real person.

Customers no longer have to buy one device that runs voice applications and another device that does RF scanning functions for other parts of the warehouse that may not lend themselves to a voice application, continues Slevin.

With prices well within reach, the industry is experiencing a wave of adoption. "Software is the key to success with voice and, in particular, open software that runs on a service-oriented architecture (SOA)," notes Steve Gerard, vice president of international sales and marketing for Voxware, Inc., Lawrenceville, NJ. Another factor contributing to decreasing costs is that large manufacturers are producing audio-ID devices. "There's more hardware choice, so prices come down.

onfigurable software products, based on open standards instead of proprietary products, also help bring down costs."

A general rule of thumb some companies use to determine cost is to calculate the total cost per worker for implementing voice. "Some pioneering companies paid about $7,000 or $8,000 per worker to install voice—but that price is now down to about $3,000 per worker," reports Gerard.

Multi-Modal: The New Frontier

Multi-modal applications are still the new frontier, says Gerard. "Applications using a screen and keyboard are starting to be envisioned." Currently a combination of voice and scanning is being used in selection as workers pick to totes. "Workers scan the tote license plate and spend the next several minutes filling up that tote by picking to voice. This is a productive combination because usually the license plates are very long numbers, which are most effectively logged by scanning."

Slevin at Lucas notes before multi-modal terminals were enabled to run voice applications, they were limited to RF scanning processes. "But as the voice industry has grown, hardware manufacturers like Symbol, Intermec, and LXE—historically in the RF scanning arena—have enabled their devices to run voice applications. Now customers can use an enterprise-wide device with these voice-enabled multi-modal devices, with the voice terminal that supports scanning and provides a screen and keypad."

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