Pick to Voice Warehouse Systems

Inventory Picking worker in a large warehouse.

Bob O'Connor / Getty Images

In today’s retail warehouses, companies operate complex facilities that are based on time-critical picking.

The inventory control efficiency of the warehouse is of vital importance and with thousands of picks to be performed every hour of every day, the accuracy of the picking performed by the warehouse staff has to be as high as possible. Inaccurate picking can lead to incorrect deliveries and will affect overall customer satisfaction.

There are a number of technology solutions on the market that can improve a warehouse operator’s accuracy and speed of pick. One solution that is popular in warehouses around the world is “pick to voice”.

How Warehouse Voice Picking Works

In a complex and high-intensity warehouse where there are multiple picking locations that require pickers to be fast and accurate, a “pick to voice” or voice-directed system can be implemented to improve picking accuracy and the speed of the pick performed by the warehouse staff.

The voice picking system allows warehouse staff to concentrate on the picking process without looking at paperwork and having both hands free to perform the pick. The original voice picking systems were used where items were not bar-coded such as fresh produce, so a handheld scanner could not be used.

The voice picking system uses speech recognition and speech synthesis to allow warehouse operators who are performing the picks to communicate with a Warehouse Management System (WMS). The staff on the warehouse floor uses a headset and microphone to receive instructions by voice, and verbally confirm their actions back to the system.

The warehouse operator will normally read back the last two or three digits of the item they have picked so that the system can check the correct item has been selected. The WMS will then give the operator the next instruction based on the algorithm in the WMS system.

Benefits of Voice Picking in Complex Warehouses

Voice picking gives tremendous advantages over traditional picking solutions in the warehouse. The operator using a voice-directed picking headset does not require paperwork to be reviewed so will be concentrating on the pick they will be performing and the location they are going to.

In addition, the voice picking scenario does not require the operator to hold or operate a handheld device to scan barcodes so they will have both hands free to perform the pick.

The voice picking system is more efficient for the warehouse and means that more picks will be performed by the warehouse staff per hour than regular picking. The overall accuracy of the pick is likely to increase as the operator is confirming their pick with the system before it is complete, so the operator knows that they have the correct part.

With regular picking, the operator has no verification and if they have picked the wrong item, that may not be found until the delivery is made to the customer. Studies have found that moving from a paper-based system to a voice-directed picking system can reduce picking errors by between 80% and 90%.

Pick to Voice Versus Pick to Light

Companies will often look at voice picking systems and compare them against other technology such as “pick to light” systems. The voice picking system is more adaptable to the regular warehouse.

A “pick to light” system requires that the warehouse operator picks from bin locations that are stationed in front of them and when a light appears they pick an item or items from that bin. However, this requires that the company installs light systems on the bins and have the operator in one stationary location.

Voice picking allows the warehouse operator to move freely in the warehouse and not be stationary or limited to a single location. There are no special light systems to purchase and does not require any special modification to the racks and locations in the warehouse.

In a world where you need every competitive advantage - and supplying your customers what they want, when they want it (and spending as little money accomplishing that as possible), voice picking might be the inventory control solution you and your optimized supply chain are looking for.