Beyond Order Picking

Voice is expanding its range of users, both inside and outside the warehouse.


“In replenishment of a forward picking area, it makes sense. In cycle counting, it also makes sense. In receiving, there’s a lot of barcode entry and data verification that goes on. Speaking an 18-digit barcode into the system is not desirable,” says FKI Logistex’s Hubacek.

“Six to eight digits is probably the maximum that you want to do with voice,” adds LXE’s Smith. “Beyond that, the opportunity for errors goes up exponentially. Then, there’s no time savings because you have to go back, correct and repeat.”

But, he acknowledges that especially in the food industry, there are a lot of products—in some cases as much as 15 percent to 20 percent—that come into warehouses without any barcodes or RFID tags at all. Those products can be entered into the system with voice, “as long as there is enough activity to justify the expense,” he says.

But, for the most part today, “people are still reluctant to go with voice for receiving because it’s better done with a scanner,” Voxware’s Barr also concedes. “It’s a lot more difficult to say a long set of numbers than to scan them in.”

Vocollect’s Miller agrees. “Sometimes scanning is required, but voice is substantially faster than other data entry means, such as a keyboard, which often now goes hand in hand with receiving,” he says.

Where voice can help, though, is in processing receipt of a large number of the same item, according to Dunkin’ Donuts’ Engard. “When doing multiple quantities of the same item, it would be great if the guy could say the last four digits [of a product identification number] and then say ‘enter 50’ rather than scanning an item 50 times,” he says.

To that end, Dunkin’ Donuts is working with its warehouse management system provider, Dallas-based Retalix USA, to streamline voice processes for receiving. “The WMS creates a pallet ID in advance, but it is not incorporated into the system until it is scanned,” Engard explains. “We need to work with the WMS so that it retains that ID in the system without scanning so that the picker only has to say the last four numbers or so to enter it into the system.”

Until that process is streamlined, though, just about every voice technology provider today is recommending a multi-modal approach to receiving applications, combining voice, RFID and scanning technologies into one system.

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