The path that voice directed logistics has taken over the last 25 years or so has not been all that different to other successful technologies before it such as the automobile, television, personal computer, mobile telephone, etc. The survival of such technologies almost becomes inevitable because once implanted in one’s life, they become useful, beneficial and utterly indispensable. Adoption drives competition which in turn drives innovation and enhancement – a stage which voice directed logistics is currently thriving in.
Voice recognition has long been identified as a ‘holy grail’ of technology. The endless benefits of being able to communicate with machine in our own tongue have long been sought. The warehouse industry has been an excellent playground for voice technology given the level of repetitive tasks and predictable events, particularly for product picking. Now that the technology has been mastered in product picking, more and more companies have been looking to the non-repetitive and non-predictable events. In warehouse terms, this means applications beyond picking such as goods receiving, put away, replenishment, loading, cycle counting, delivery, etc. While these tasks have been successfully adopted by many major logistics players, they are not yet the norm.
One of the major challenges for voice logistics while in its infancy was the requirement for costly bespoke system development in almost every case. This was due to every warehouse being unique in the challenges it faced – a fact which remains true. However, given the success of voice in picking and its continued adoption throughout the rest of the workflows in logistics, select companies such as the Heavey RF Group have been able to develop solutions which encompass most challenges in any warehouse with the flexibility to fine-tune where necessary. This functionality will become the basis for future voice solutions to allow easier adoption and deployment. In addition, customers are experiencing benefits such as 600% increased accuracy, 95% increase in productivity rates and huge gains in pick speeds – all of which result in a return on investment seen in under one year of implementation.
From a hardware perspective, customers have many options. These range from voice dedicated units, such as those worn on a belt which is connected to a wired or wireless headset; to handheld or vehicle or wrist mounted computers running the applications while connected to a wired or wireless headset. What will thrive and survive in the warehouse will be the solution easiest to use, the most reliable and the most rugged. How I ultimately see voice running in the warehouse from a hardware perspective would be a rugged headset that contains all the components of a voice dedicated device and is small, light, rugged and most importantly remaining simple to use.
From a software perspective, voice users will be able to put on a headset (regardless of what the headset is connected to) and will be able to carry out any task from inbound, picking, loading and delivery with the utmost efficiency and accuracy. In today’s (and no doubt tomorrow’s) economy, information is king. Voice solutions will provide the most up to date, accurate information allowing the most optimum performance and flexibility. The software will also be able to analyse what practices work best and can then drive those practices out to all members of a workforce.
We need to be careful that we do not try to implement technology for technology’s sake. This practice would certainly not be supported by the warehouse industry. Any investment in technology or systems has to have a realisable benefit and return on investment in order for the technology to survive. This has been the case so far with product picking as the savings have been immense. By partnering with companies such as Heavey RF, logistics companies such as DHL, Musgraves, Glanbia, just to name a few, have been helping push the boundaries of voice directed logistics in order to gain benefits from routine tasks such as asset management, MHE servicing, scheduled maintenance and other data-based tasks. While I don’t believe we will progress to having full blown conversations with computers (nor do I see the point in a logistics environment), we will continue to perfect the ability to accurately and efficiently carry out more and more business tasks.
Heavey RF Group is an international total solutions provider delivering mobile data technology and integration software for industrial clients in a wide range of markets. It manages the supply, installation, integration and complete 24/7 support of handheld and vehicle mounted mobile terminals, wireless infrastructure, wireless security and voice directed applications. Heavey RF has been working with mobile solutions for over 12 years and employs 25 people in Dublin and London.
For more information, please go to www.heaveyrf.com