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Advanced voice software uses deep neural networks — the same kind Apple and Amazon use to power virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa — that can provide a more than 25-percent increase in voice-recognition accuracy, says Scott Deutsch of Ehrhardt Partner Group. This is vital for use in noisy warehouses, he says. Read the full interview with Scott Deutsch in "Pick up the pace with new picking technologies" — DC Velocity, Material Handling, April 22, 2019 by Victoria Kickham.
Innovation is reshaping the picking-technologies landscape as tech providers seek to meet customers' growing need to increase productivity and throughput in their distribution centers. Driven by a shift in fulfillment trends toward smaller orders and increased piece-picking, suppliers are serving up a host of innovative solutions that can make workers more efficient and push organizations farther down the road toward automation. Industry experts say smarter, more intuitive voice technology; wearable products that streamline manual picking; and advanced robotics that speed up the sorting process in piece-picking operations are just a few of the newest advancements helping DCs meet those goals.
Process improvement is at the heart of the issue and the key driver of today's more advanced technologies, according to Scott Deutsch, Americas president for supply chain execution and voice software solutions provider Ehrhardt Partner Group (EPG). Deutsch says cost reduction used to be the primary reason for investing in productivity-enhancing voice-picking technologies in particular. Today, he says, organizations are focused on streamlining operations to manage the growing complexity of the picking process—while also getting orders out the door faster and more accurately.
"If you think about it, 10 years ago a lot of companies would [just] ship cases to their local retail location," Deutsch explains. "Today, businesses fulfill orders from the warehouse as well as the retail store. Customers can place orders wherever and however they want, and they can pick it up at the store or have it delivered to their home. [As a result,] if companies are [processing] 150 orders a day, they want to know how they get to 180 a day. Today, that is the big driver."
Modern voice solutions can increase employee productivity by more than 10 percent, according to EPG, which offers its Lydia Voice solution for warehouse and logistics operations. This is due in part to technological advances such as smarter voice-recognition technology, which is one of the biggest changes the voice segment has experienced in the past 10 years, Deutsch says. Advanced voice software solutions now use deep neural networks — the same kind Apple and Amazon use to power virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa — that can provide a more than 25-percent increase in voice-recognition accuracy, he adds. This is vital for use in noisy warehouses, where near perfection is required to ensure that the right products are picked, packed, and shipped consistently, he says.
Deutsch adds that today's more advanced technology also eliminates the need for voice template training, in which each employee would typically spend 30 to 40 minutes training the system to recognize his or her voice in order for it to work effectively. In addition to raising productivity levels, this advancement allows for greater buy-in at warehouses and DCs, where employment levels often fluctuate due to high turnover and strong seasonal demand for labor.
"[Extensive training] would be acceptable if you only had full-time employees and they never left," Deutsch explains. "That's the old way of doing voice recognition. Today, because of our deep neural network, employees can just start talking [and the system will work]."
In addition to individual productivity improvements, today's more advanced voice-picking technology also contributes to increased order throughput across the facility, which is another key management goal, Deutsch notes. He points to the complexity and high cost of expanding a facility or relocating to accommodate business growth in today's fast-paced omnichannel environment.
"Businesses are growing, and they are looking for ways to improve the overall process [to accommodate] that growth," he explains. "Customers are asking, 'How do I get [higher] throughput at my existing facility?' If you can delay the lease or construction of a new building, that's a direct impact to the bottom line."