Combining voice and RFID produces powerful opportunities in the warehouse, notes Sweeney at Vocollect. "Voice is perfect for directing workers and leading them through a process, while RFID verifies that what the worker is doing is correct." For example, in case selection an RFID tag on a case communicates its lot number to Talkman on a worker's belt. "If that lot number is expired, the worker is alerted and the case is put aside and the worker chooses another case."
Lucas Systems is examining this powerful combination, integrating small RFID readers with voice. "RFID readers can read a particular item or location accurately, while voice can direct workers where to go and what to do and enable them to manage exceptions that occur on the floor," notes Lucas' Slevin.
Lucas has delivered multi-modal applications for numerous DC functions including receiving. "Workers may benefit from a screen to be able to see what's coming in and to verify receipt of materials, as well as an imager to take pictures of damaged materials to facilitate claims processing. Some customers use voice and RF for receiving, but in some cases it may make better sense to use the RF terminal without voice. In these cases you are not limited to having to purchase one type of hardware for voice and another device for an RF application."
Put-to-store and cycle-counting applications offer additional opportunities, notes Sweeney. The put-to-store application is used when a warehouse receives––but doesn't store––product. "Dock workers set up temporary locations for particular stores on the dock. As full pallets come in, they're taken to the staging area and broken down into store loads. Workers use a Vocollect Talkman wearable computer as they build pallets for each store and then they load pallets onto the truck. It's really a reverse picking operation."
Interweaving tasks eliminates the need for a dedicated workforce doing inventory counts during off-shifts. "Inventory applications like cycle counting using Vocollect Voice is growing in popularity as workers combine cycle-counting with picking activities," reports Sweeney.
For example, the WMS sends a worker to a location where he is instructed to first count the items because the quantity in that location is low. "Vocollect Voice prompts the worker to count the items and report the quantity back to the WMS, which does an update as a cycle count, and then instructs the worker to pick a certain quantity," explains Sweeney.
Multi-modal applications like picking and scanning or auditing orders are also growing in interest. "Tracking food products along the supply chain is becoming very important and capturing long lot numbers is most accurately done by scanning," says Gerard at Voxware. Workers use a wearable device with a scanner built into the voice unit so they can efficiently switch from a scanning operation back to voice.
Some companies might need to verify products being picked. "You might have high-value items like expensive cases of champagne where workers need to scan the UPC code they are picking in order to have an additional level of verification," Gerard notes. "In situations like these, you give up some productivity, however."
Billing stores accurately used to be an error-prone and lengthy process. Sweeney notes that weights of meat products heading out of a DC need to be recorded. "This is because a 15-pound box of filet mignon in reality might weigh a bit over or under and the DC must bill the store accurately." In the past, order selectors would have to write down every weight in one location, and then proceed to the next location. They would then pass along those notes to a person who would enter the information into a computer. "Vocollect Voice prompts the worker for the weight of every case and the system does an on-the-spot error check to see if the box is within tolerance and passes that data electronically to the billing system, so all the interim steps are eliminated."
On outbound side, Vo-collect Voice tracks where pallets are loaded in trucks. "Not only do the loaders tell the system they are putting a load on the truck, but they can identify where on the truck that pallet is going," explains Sweeney. "Drivers know where every pallet is, saving unloading time at destinations."