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21.07.2020 

Human Augmentation: Voice and Vision

The rise of e-commerce and the on-demand economy have ushered in a “new normal” ruled by changing consumer expectations. 

Today’s consumers can shop online at any time and have anything they want brought to their doors, and now they expect that service as quickly as possible. Next-day and same-day delivery used to be luxuries only reserved for those who were willing to pay additional shipping fees, but the majority of retailers today offer next-day delivery as the standard.

As consumer demand increases and shipping speeds get faster, how can the supply chain keep up? Many companies have fortified last-mile delivery by investing in transportation management systems (TMS) and optimized operations using warehouse management systems (WMS). But to further enhance efficiency and stay ahead of the competition, supply chain managers are turning to voice and vision technologies to fill in the gaps.     

In this installment of the Human Augmentation series, we’re taking a deep dive into vision and voice picking technologies. We’ll cover where voice and vision are today and where they’re going, the benefits of having a voice-directed warehouse, and how Körber can help businesses overcome the barriers to human augmentation.  

The State of Voice and Vision

Voice picking solutions are already helping many supply chain managers keep up with the demands of e-commerce. A WMS offers incredible functionality, but voice picking technology further optimizes the operator’s experience. Voice is a safer and more comfortable way for employees to pick, and it maximizes ROI. In fact, voice picking technology can make warehouse employees ten to 35 percent more efficient, improve picking accuracy, and reduce operational costs.  

Vision technology, on the other hand, is still maturing in the supply chain industry. Currently, vision’s use cases are limited because the technology is not quite ready for widespread adoption. For example, the vision technology available today, like Google Glass, doesn’t have the battery life to sustain all-day use, making it impractical for the warehouse. Also, vision can be quite heavy, and outfitting an employee’s headset with it could lead to fatigue and compromise their safety.

In one to two years when vision technology becomes fully realized, the application has the potential to completely revolutionize picking. For instance, vision can be used for pallet reconfiguration in the food and beverage industry. The technology could automatically configure pallets and visually tell the worker how to pick based on the sequence, making sure that heavier items like canned tomatoes don’t end up on top of softer items like bread. More efficient picking and packing improve worker productivity and get more deliveries on the truck, which translates to faster service. 

The Benefits of Voice Technology

By adding voice and vision to their warehouse technology suite, businesses can take their operations to the next level and ready themselves to meet rising consumer expectations. In particular, voice picking solutions can:

  • Boost productivity

Voice picking technology can enhance efficiency by allowing warehouse workers to focus exclusively on the task at hand. With their hands and eyes free, pickers are able to increase both their speed and accuracy. Voice solutions eliminate the distraction of holding a scanner or piece of paper, ultimately enhancing accuracy by up to 85 percent. Further, the technology enables workers to communicate with and direct autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) using only their voices.

  • Tackle the labor shortage

Global labor shortages have made it challenging for businesses to find new employees and retain existing ones. Fortunately, voice and vision can help address this issue. Voice picking solutions are remarkably intuitive and user-friendly, and many people already use voice technology in their everyday lives (think Siri and Alexa). Learning voice is simply a matter of applying the same familiar principles to the warehouse. 

Workers are typically self-directed within hours of learning the system, while paper and RF can take weeks to reach peak efficiency. Managers can either hire more freely knowing that whoever they hire will be able to productively use voice, or empower the talent they already have to be more efficient.

  • Improve employee safety 

By allowing warehouse employees to work hands-free and eyes-free, voice picking technologies help workers pick in an efficient and safe manner. Employees can grab items with both hands instead of juggling the item and RF scanner (or paper) at the same time, which reduces the risk of strain injuries. Also, as many businesses are bringing people back to work in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, voice can help slow the spread of the virus by eliminating the need to touch AMRs and other devices.

Barriers to Human Augmentation

Voice and vision technology are the future of human augmentation in the warehouse, but vision continues to lag behind voice in terms of implementation. In fact, nine out of ten small-to-medium size businesses would say they’re not considering using vision. The biggest barrier is the market perception that vision is a tier one technology that can only be implemented by larger organizations. Many supply chain managers consider vision to be early market tech, which makes them a little hesitant to invest. 

Further, even though voice and vision technology are accessible and cutting edge, they’re simply not top of mind for many people. Voice implementation first appeared in the 1990s and there have been monumental improvements to the technology since then, but it can be challenging to reverse long-held misconceptions about the tech’s accuracy and flexibility.    

The Körber Difference

As the leading provider of supply chain software, Körber has what it takes to break down these barriers and position voice and vision as the new frontiers in supply chain technology. Körber has over 1,300 voice customers globally who can speak to their positive experiences with voice and vision. They’re low-risk solutions, easy to integrate with existing warehouse management systems, and can help businesses rise to meet the demands of e-commerce.

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