The Power of Voice: The Value Proposition of Voice-directed Warehousing
By Lora Cecere, Founder and CEO, Supply Chain Insights LLC
A warehouse is not a warehouse and a supply chain is not a supply chain. They come in various sizes, varieties and with different requirements. They vary by industry and product requirements. It is hard to generalize. They need to be designed and fit for purpose, but there is no question that they are growing more complex. As complexity increases, manufacturers and distributors are seeking new ways to optimize customer service requirements with rising labor costs.
One of these options is voice-directed warehousing. Voice-directed warehousing—where a warehouse worker is directed to perform tasks based on voice automation using a headset—is now over twenty years old. It enables a worker to process orders “hands-free and eyes-free” improving safety, quality and productivity. The processes are maturing and the technologies are increasing in capability. We have moved from early adopter, or early experimentation with the technology, to main market adoption where mainstream manufacturers and distributors are trying to rationalize the value proposition. This report is designed to answer the question, “What is the value of voice?” for the supply chain leader. The top reason that supply chain leaders use the technology is to improve the quality of loads to the customer. Here we tell this story.
Today’s warehouses are more complex than ten years ago. Products and channels have proliferated, late-stage customization requirements have increased, the number of temperature environments has multiplied (e.g., cold chain, frozen etc.), and warehouse employee turnover is greater than ever before. Customer service requirements have increased and as a result, a greater percentage of products are picked by either the “each,” the “case,” or the “layer” in the modern warehouse.
Today, there are higher demands for customer service in the organization. The cadence of customer requests and new requirements increases each year. Accurate transmission of these requests into action is problematic. The environment has grown more dynamic. Order cycle time is shrinking. There is continuous pressure to reduce costs and improve customer service. Demand volatility reigns. Product variants and master data issues abound. Voice-directed warehousing offers promise, but how do companies rationalize the capital costs?
Additionally, compliance regulations loom. How will the warehouse adapt to product serialization in pharmaceutical companies? What will field to fork legislation mean for food and beverage manufacturers? How will product tracking and customization for REACH impact flows? There are more questions than answers. The only thing that is known is the warehouse will be rife with change.
In this study of 96 respondents from over 80 companies, the average use of voice-directed warehousing was five years among users. There were 58 respondents using voice-directed warehousing and 38 that were not. Among users of voice-directed warehousing, only 17% used voice alone. Instead it was usually used in concert with barcode scanning.