How to Improve Picking Accuracy in the Warehouse
Woe to the retailer who delivers anything less than a perfect customer experience. In an age of explosive e-commerce growth, mistakes — such as shipping the wrong order (or an order without an item), missing the promised time frame, out-of-stock or backordered products, and more — can not only reflect poorly on the business’ brand, but also result in a lost customer.
Yet today, it’s harder than ever to maintain accuracy in the warehouse or distribution center (DC). Many operations struggle to manage the increased number of stock keeping units (SKUs) they must maintain in their inventories to meet customers’ expectations. That’s why companies are increasingly evaluating investments in automated material handling solutions. However, to successfully and accurately receive, restock, replenish, pick, pack, and ship requires a scalable, flexible system that accommodates multiple processes and workflows — it might even require a combination of two or more technologies for the optimal solution.
Available types of automated material handling systems
Several automated material handling solutions are typically deployed to address today’s fulfillment accuracy challenges. Among them are voice-directed solutions, automation, robotics, radio-frequency (RF) barcode scanning and light-directed picking. All have proven superior to paper-based processes, particularly when targeting how to improve order picking accuracy. By combining the optimal mix of these technologies to address the challenges at hand (such as a reduction in worker productivity or an increase in picking errors), an operation will benefit from an overall reduction in mistakes.
Approaches to selecting automated material handling solutions
There are three key considerations when determining which automated technologies will offer the most flexible and adaptable solution, both short- and long-term. They are:
- Define how the technology will be applied within the DC and how it will interact with mobile workers as they perform specific processes and tasks. By pairing mobile robotics and voice technology, for example, travel time for a mobile worker is eliminated. Instead, item retrieval and delivery are now managed by robots that travel back and forth from inventory storage to a central, human-staffed workstation — increasing efficiency, accuracy and safety.
- Establish acceptable trade-offs, particularly between efficiency and flexibility. That is, fully automated robotic solutions generally deliver extremely high efficiency — but due to inherent limitations, they aren’t very flexible. Instead, look to balance those trade-offs by combining technologies. For instance, a mobile worker equipped with voice technology can work independently yet also interface naturally with collaborative robots (cobots) to address exceptions.
- Compare anticipated return on investment (ROI), payback periods and total cost of ownership (TCO). Full automation takes longer to deliver a return; for voice technology, it’s a short period. Some technologies require ongoing, long-term maintenance costs that add to the overall expense. Working with the right solutions partner can help with assessing the options — and their associated paybacks — to facilitate the decision-making process.
Voice-enabled workflows future-proof an operation
For facilities utilizing a combination of mobile workers and automated material handling solutions, equipping those associates with voice technology provides a flexible, scalable solution that increases accuracy, productivity and efficiency across all workflows. Easy to use and fast to deploy, voice technology lets mobile workers have their hands and eyes free when picking for a near instantaneous boost in picking accuracy and efficiency.
Further, voice technology delivers accuracy across multiple processes: documenting received orders via verbal confirmation; directing put-away and replenishment to ensure proper placement; flagging short picks for exception handling; and routing pallets and parcels to their correct outbound trailers. In operations considering a future investment in robotics, vision picking or augmented reality, voice technology provides the conduit by which mobile workers connect to and interface with those advanced solutions.
Ultimately, voice technology is an optimal solution for successfully and flexibly addressing the challenges of meeting customer expectations for more SKU choices and accurate order fulfillment, both today and tomorrow.
Read our white paper, Future-Proof Your DC With Voice-Directed Workflows, to learn how Honeywell Voice can help operations maintain flexibility throughout numerous processes and workflows, while enabling mobile workers to be more accurate, productive and efficient.