November 2009 | How-To | Ten Tips

Selecting a Voice-Directed Picking System

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If you want to reduce errors, improve productivity, and increase accuracy in the warehouse, a voice-directed picking system may help. Choosing the right product to meet your company's needs, however, can be a challenge. Donal Mac Daid, vice president of product marketing at Atlanta-based logistics software provider Aldata Solution Inc., offers advice on selecting voice-directed picking technology.

1. Know what kind of system you need.Determine whether you want a dedicated voice device or a multi-modal personal digital assistant (PDA). Dedicated voice devices are single-purpose, and do not offer the flexibility of PDAs. You may prefer a system that allows operators to use voice as well as input data on the device's screen or via bar-code/RFID scanning.

2. Make sure your system is interoperable.Choose a voice picking technology that can work with a variety of warehouse management system packages and languages. This will increase the voice picking system's flexibility.

3. Look for systems that do not require voice recognition training. A good system should be usable by any operator right out of the box. In a typical warehouse or distribution center, this reduces costs associated with seasonal/temporary help training and enables operator interoperability.

4. Consider operator fatigue. Operators using dedicated voice systems can get fatigued, leading to errors. PDA systems allow users to switch between voice-directed and on-screen modes so they are more engaged and productive.

5. Try before you buy.Be sure to conduct a proof of concept before committing to any system. Build out your test bed in a real business environment. If you're doing order picking, test your current system against your prospective voice picking operation and measure the results.

6. Flexibility is a must.Consider a system you can implement throughout the entire warehouse. It should have the flexibility to be used at receiving docks, on picking vehicles, at pick zones, and at shipping docks. Investing in versatile technology will reduce maintenance costs.

7. Standardize your system.Some organizations use a dozen or more different handheld devices. Consider your purchase as a chance to standardize on one type of system, from warehouse to store shelf. This approach reduces maintenance costs and limits the number of supplier contracts.

8. Make sure the system can be easily upgraded.Select a voice-directed picking system that enables you to leverage existing investments but also allows you to take advantage of new processes and retail best practices. It should be simple to add RFID, traceability, or any new process.

9. Set your sights high.Ask your potential vendor to develop a detailed return on investment report based on your warehouse and specific requirements. As a guide (and depending on how effective your current system is), deploying a new voice-directed picking system should reduce error rates by 80 percent and improve productivity by 30 percent.

10. Don't be a pioneer.Before you buy a voice-directed picking system, be sure to diligently check each vendor's references. Find out what other customers they are working with, whether the system is in production, where it is produced, and how many operators it services.

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