Part one of a two part series on how to reduce operating costs through better warehousing and storage operations.
With warehouses and distribution centres now a key part of manufacturing supply chains, especially with the dramatic increase in on-line shopping, it is increasingly important that these facilities operate as efficiently as possible.
In the first half of this series Ferret looks at major advances in picking technologies to reduce costs and improve accuracies and efficiencies, in particular voice-directed warehousing.
According to Larry Sweeney, Senior VP and Co-Founder of US-based Vocollect (a division of Intermec ), a leading provider of voice technology, the increase in on-line shopping is changing the face of warehousing as it becomes more complex.
"Having the capability and the flexibility to respond to these dynamics both in the warehouse and in the retail store is a key focus for us going forward," Sweeney explained.
More and more companies, especially in Europe and the US, are taking advantage of voice picking technology and applying it across the board.
"We have a vision, which we call the voice centric distribution centre, where voice technology is used as a receiving tool, in the put away replenishment processes, plus picking, loading and inventory functions like cycle counting and inventory counts. We have several customers who are 100% voice in the warehouse," he said.
According to Sweeney, alternative picking systems are either too expensive or not as efficient.
For example, on first examination pick-to-light systems appear to be more productive, but that is this not the case.
Comparing one person using pick-to-light to another using voice, you could look at them and think they are operating at the same speed, in fact the pick-to-light person might be a little faster.
But in an actual warehouse scenario, with five or six zones for example, it's a different story with the balance of products picked in each of the zones changing over time with one picker eventually becoming a bottleneck.
While the picker in that particular zone is working as fast as they can, they are the throttle on the system, with pickers in the zones either side of that picker having to slow down.
So when you look at the average pick rate across all pickers in a pick-to-light situation, it can be very low, whereas pickers using voice just keep rolling."
Voice technology is applicable for all types of warehouses and DCs from three or five people right up to warehouses and DCs with 300 plus workers in them.
Training for voice systems is now also shorter.
Recent advances from Vocollect include a wearable voice system with integrated hands-free scanning - the Talkman A700.
Sweeney says the system facilitates hands-free scanning for process steps such as inducting totes at the beginning of assignments, batch-picking, and product traceability, while remaining a compact, purpose-built mobile device.