Most folks might hesitate to admit that they hear voices. Fewer would admit listening to and taking direction from the voices. And almost no one would readily admit to answering the voices back. If, however, you are looking for a significant upgrade to your picking process's productivity and accuracy, giving serious consideration to ‘listening to the voices’ may be just what you need to do.

Voice picking is one of the many recommended methods for use in Forward or Reserve Pick Zones in Distribution Centers. This technology often takes the place of paper pick lists or RF Bar Code Terminals, in many cases because voice picking keeps the picker's hands free. This aids the picker’s productivity, whether they are picking large boxes or counting out smaller items. Time saved in not handling and annotating a pick list or holstering and unholstering an RF handheld device translates into higher productivity.

A basic voice pick process entails:

• Operator logs on to the voice pick software and into a specific task or location using their headset.

• The user can request a specific order to pick or the voice pick system can assign them the next order in their area.

• The headset directs the picker to the first location with a pick in it.

• Once at the pick location, the user reads off the Check Digit for that location.

• The software verifies the user is at the correct location and audible cues the operator with the quantity to pick.

• If enough product is present in the pick location, the user verifies the quantity as picked with a voice response. The operator can also verbally indicate a short pick if not enough product is present, close and order box if it is full, along with certain other exception activities particular to an operation.

• The software verbally directs the picker to the next pick location.

Voice picking is most effective for case picking, picking larger pieces to a pallet, or smaller piece picking with at least some walking or movement between pick locations. For high velocity items or very dense pick areas where an operator may not have to move more than a step or two between pick locations, voice picking may not be as effective as the operator must listen to verbal directives between each pick.

We have witnessed great improvements to voice picking hardware and software over the last 10 years. The streamlining of voice training for individual operator voice recognition and the central storage of recognition files allow for sharing of headset and transmitting units between operators and across shifts. The applications handle background noise, variations in voice patterns due to colds or coughs and language recognition with much greater ease today than ever before.

Costs for voice picking applications have come down over time as well. Most applications are approximately equal in cost per voice headset unit to the unit cost for RF scan gun applications. This makes voice picking extremely attractive for the types of forward picking applications mentioned above. So if you are seeking to improve your picking productivity with a fiscally prudent investment in technology, it may be best to “listen to the voices” and evaluate bringing voice pick technology into your operation.

Bryan Jensen has 25 years of experience in retail and wholesale distribution, transportation and logistics and is a vice president and principal with St. Onge Company in York, Pa., assisting clients in identifying the optimal picking approaches for their operations. St. Onge Company is a material handling and manufacturing consulting firm specializing in the planning, engineering and implementation of advanced material handling, information and control systems supporting logistics, manufacturing and distribution since 1983 (www.stonge.com). Contact Bryan at (717) 840-8181 or by email at bjensen@stonge.com.