27. July 2021

Pick-by-voice – applications, functions and alternatives

Voice-controlled order picking using pick-by-voice is one of the most popular variants of paperless order picking. But how do pickers work with this technology? What benefits does it bring to warehouses? And what challenges do users face? In this blog post, we will provide answers to these questions and show you the best alternatives to pick-by-voice.

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How pick-by-voice in logistics works

When it comes to understanding pick-by-voice, the clue is in the name: the user controls the system with their voice. The pick-by-voice system communicates directly with the higher-level software, such as a warehouse management system or ERP tool like SAP. Orders are usually sent from the warehouse management system to the pick-by-voice headset via WLAN. The warehouse employee receives their instructions directly to their ear via a headset. The computer-generated voice then guides them through the warehouse to the correct item. In the next step, the system tells the picker how many of the respective item they should pick. The picker also responds using their voice. Once they are at the right shelf and storage space, they confirm this to the system by reading out the check digit on the shelf.

Advantages of pick-by-voice

Pick-by-voice has a number of important advantages over other picking methods. The picker has both their hands free throughout the whole process. This makes the procedure more ergonomic and allows the picker to concentrate on their main job. It also increases picking precision. Pick-by-voice completely does away with paper, removing the need for the picker to carry a list around with them. This quickly results in better picking quality. Experience has also shown that new staff require less training to use the system than with many other picking methods.

Where pick-by-voice can be used

Order pickers use pick-by-voice for picking piece goods or containers, for example. The system is used for both putting incoming goods into storage and processing returns. Further applications include production and quality assurance.

Disadvantages of pick-by-voice

Businesses that use pick-by-voice often face the same challenges. A voice-controlled system only works when the users constantly interact with the software via the headset. Having to speak and listen all the time throughout the process quickly leads to fatigue.

Most pick-by-voice systems use check digits to verify the storage location and the right items when picking. But warehouse staff often learn these digits by heart, making it easy to skip this step. This results in lower precision and therefore lower pick quality. Many companies are reacting to this by integrating an additional step, in which the user must say the last digit of the item number. But this throws away the time advantage gained by using pick-by-voice in the first place. 

Alternatives to pick-by-voice

Technology can only go some way toward solving the challenges posed by pick-by-voice. There are alternative picking methods available, such as pick-by-paper, pick-by-scan and pick-by-light, but these too have their own disadvantages.

Pick-by-paper

Using paper picking lists is highly vulnerable to errors, especially at high pick densities. Pickers also need to carry the list around with them, there is frequent media disruption and it is bad for the environment. On top of all this, any corrections have to be made manually.

Pick-by-scan

Pick-by-scan uses mobile, handheld scanners. These limit freedom of motion and mean that the picker does not have both hands free during the process. This costs valuable time during picking.

Pick-by-light

Integrating pick-by-light comes with relatively high investment costs compared to other systems. It also requires more maintenance and is less flexible. Any necessary adjustments to the warehouse infrastructure are costly.

The real alternative – pick-by-vision

Businesses that want to make their picking processes better, more ergonomic and more efficient should consider pick-by-vision. This solution combines the benefits of all other picking methods. It works by guiding the picker visually through the warehouse using smart glasses.

The system is based on the fact that we humans receive 80% of all information through our eyes. The smart glasses display all the important picking information. The system guides the picker through the process using assisted reality. The picker can simultaneously perceive both the warehouse environment around them and the projection on the display. Just like pick-by-voice, the technology lets the user keep both hands free for their core tasks. Alongside the ergonomic factor, pick-by-vision offers other key advantages. The smart glasses feature integrated microphones, for example. These make it possible to control a number of complex processes via voice. Users can quickly make quantity corrections or provide similar information. They can also verify these commands at any time on the smart glasses’ display.

Vision Guide – finding the best picking method

Our Vision Guide for logistics contains a detailed comparison of all order picking methods available on the market. It also includes a checklist with the most important criteria that you need to bear in mind when choosing new order picking systems. Download our free Vision Guide now!

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