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Recession proofing

Recession proofing

02/01/2012 | Channel: Logistics / Packaging

At times of economic uncertainty, technology has an important role to play in helping the supply chain to work smarter and become more competitive. Here, Richard Adams explores the benefits of operational flexibility delivered by voice-directed working

In a tough climate for the supply chain, underpinned by continued uncertainty for the economy, companies are continuing to work in an environment marked by changeability and unpredictability. Against this background however, voice-directed working as supplied by Vocollect has grown in popularity as it helps companies to cope with fluctuating business extremes in a controlled and efficient manner.

In more difficult financial periods it can also help reduce operating costs while still improving service levels to customers. And when business conditions improve, voice gives them the flexibility to scale-up, increase capacity and cope with seasonal peaks.

When times are hard
Tough economic times demand a degree of belt-tightening and the ability to respond to inevitable management calls for savings and efficiencies. At times like these, warehouses often review their operations to see where these savings can be made.

Here, voice-directed working delivers savings in two principal areas; operations on the warehouse floor and back-office administrative processes.

Let’s look at warehouse operations first. Relevant at any time - but particularly so in a downturn economy - the challenge for distribution functions is to make staff as productive as possible whilst simultaneously eliminating the costs caused by mistakes such as pick errors.

In the face of these challenges, traditional methods of using printed lists or handheld terminals for core tasks such as picking and receiving have inbuilt inefficiencies. However experienced they may be, warehouse operators will find their efficiency constrained by having constantly to refer to printed lists or terminal displays.

The essential advantage of voice-directed working is that it enables them to work ‘hands-free and eyes-free’ and focus entirely on the item to be selected. In terms of productivity, experience has shown that companies can work up to 20 per cent faster with voice than with paper lists.

Accuracy rates are also boosted, which can be by up to 99.9 per cent. With voice-directed working, operatives can now avoid the scenario of looking for location data, going to the location, looking at a paper list or terminal for instructions, looking at an item on the racking space, putting down the list or terminal, looking back to the racking - and then incorrectly picking an item from an adjoining space.

A 2010 survey by research firm The Aberdeen Group found that voice-enabled warehouses were 1.62 times more likely than non-voice users to have pick accuracies of 99 per cent or higher, and 1.59 times higher than non-voice users to have ontime and complete shipment rates of 99 per cent or higher.

Voice-directed working delivers similar benefits in administrative processes.

As workers speak to the headset they wear, the speech is converted to data and the back-office warehouse management system automatically updated.

For example, in the case of one Vocollect voice-user, a major supplier of catering goods with 35 operatives in the warehouse, 17 man hours each day were being spent putting data back into the system after shifts. With a voice-enabled system in place, the firm reported it had achieved an annual saving of approximately £50,000.

Clearly, even in the toughest economic conditions, the combination of a more productive workforce, reduced pick errors and lower administrative costs gives warehouse management a sound platform for negotiating its way through difficult times.

When times are good
The advantages of increased productivity and higher accuracy also apply when the warehouse has made it through the hard times and finds itself in a state of strong growth. This time however, the benefits manifest themselves differently.

Seasonal peaks will inevitably demand the addition of new contract staff. With Vocollect’s voice-directed systems it takes no more than 25 minutes for the new hire to have spoken all the relevant key words to the system and ‘trained’ it for optimum two-way communication.

The effects are twofold. Firstly, the intuitive nature of voice-directed working allows new staff to be fully productive after a matter of days. Secondly the brief period invested in training allows confusion over similar sounds to be minimised, meaning pick errors are eradicated and negligible time is lost requesting repeat instructions.

As new additional shifts are arranged to cope with extra demand, management has immediate, real-time visibility of warehouse operations to make key planning decisions. Do they have the correct numbers of staff allocated to shifts? Are picking schedules on track? What changes can be made to make operations even more productive and service levels even higher?

With workers more productive and management information precise and timely, the warehouse becomes more productive, making it possible to defer expanding the premises, or possibly put off the decision to build a new facility altogether.

A recurring fluctuation between and good times and tough times is hard to avoid. Whatever the challenge, therefore, the flexibility, accessibility and immediate ability to increase productivity and improve business processes make voice technology ideally suited to riding out the volatility of the market.

Richard Adams

Richard Adams is vice president of sales with Vocollect EMEA. In this capacity, he is responsible for growing the company’s sales and presence throughout the region, expanding its network of resellers and supply chain performance experts, and increasing opportunities for Vocollect Voice in newer geographic markets of the world, including Russia and Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa. He is based in the company’s EMEA headquarters office outside of London in Wooburn Green, UK.

Vocollect
Vocollect, a business unit of Intermec, Inc., is the leader in creating and providing voice-centric solutions for mobile workers in distribution and warehouse environments worldwide. The speech recognition software and extreme recognition accuracy of in-vocabulary speech helps customers achieve a higher level of business performance through voice. Every day over 350,000 workers worldwide use Vocollect’s comprehensive voice solutions to distribute more than $3.5 billion in goods from distribution centers and warehouses to customer locations.

For further information, visit www.vocollect.com.