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Intelligrated InSights

Top seven benefits of voice picking solutions

Fulfillment centers strive to optimize throughput, speed and accuracy to cost-effectively meet promised service levels. Managers play a difficult balancing act of minimizing employee turnover to avoid continuous training and re-training, adjusting processes to efficiently balance work volume and planning for demand fluctuation to accommodate seasonal spikes. Voice technology can scale to match changing business requirements and offers a solution to empower management with greater control, flexibility and visibility into operations on the floor.

Read on for the top seven benefits of using voice in the direct order fulfillment process and utilizing Intelligrated’s voice technology over legacy voice products.

1. Accuracy
Distribution is a fast-paced game with high-stakes and little margin for error. Customers place a premium on fast service, but receiving the wrong product renders speed meaningless. Erroneous orders not only cost time and money in the form of returns processing and a replacement shipment, but levy even greater costs by damaging customer satisfaction and reducing repeat business. By implementing voice solutions, operations can achieve more than 99.9 percent fulfillment accuracy — a critical metric in the competitive retail and e-commerce landscape. This keeps the right products flowing to keep store shelves stocked and avoid lost revenue.

2. Productivity
Simplicity is often the best route to productivity. But in order to maintain control of inventory and manage the fulfillment process, operations often arm employees with scanners or paper pick lists, keeping their hands occupied and adding extra complication to the picking process. This enforces an effective ceiling on employee productivity and operational success, risking insufficient stock on store shelves and missed shipping cut off times. In contrast, voice technology reduces steps required to complete a task and keeps pickers’ hands free and eyes up, improving safety, ergonomics and increasing productivity up to 35 percent.

3. Scalability
If a sharp holiday peak hits or if business experiences sustained organic growth, how can fulfillment operations maintain high service levels while meeting increased order volumes? Voice solutions provide that scalability through simple and cost-effective worker and workflow additions, ensuring operations can handle demand while avoiding wasteful investment. Voice’s ability to support large vocabularies of thousands of words enables it to automate a greater variety of complex mobile work tasks.

4. Rapid adoption of automation
Fast-paced fulfillment operations do not have time to replace out-of-date technology or implement complex training programs required for RF data entry. With voice, supervisors leverage unique, easier training and support capabilities to quickly scale up new, part-time or seasonal workers to meet and exceed corporate productivity targets. Especially useful during peak season, innovative training features help facilities quickly integrate seasonal labor into picking operations.

A highly practical example is when a new hire forgets the proper process for handling an exception, such as a short. They can put their work on hold and place a quick call to a supervisor who can then provide brief coaching or join the actual voice transaction through a three-way call to role model best practices to properly completing the work task.

Supervisors can also speed site adoption by playing workers’ actual audio back to them at any point in a transaction to advise on the most effective work behaviors.

5. Management visibility
Easy access to the right information not only leads to faster management decisions; it also benefits employees on the floor by providing real-time information to help gauge self-improvement efforts. Dashboards provide real-time visibility into individual worker, group, zone, site and company-wide productivity levels, daily progress and time remaining to complete assigned tasks, enabling management to make rapid operational decisions. Workers are also able to ask for their current performance level, especially valuable in locations using incentive plans.

6. Multilingual capabilities
Going international? For businesses expanding their global footprint or integrating non-native employees, Intelligrated’s voice system is a perfect fit, offering support for all the world’s leading languages and speaking more languages than any other voice solution. Workers can choose their language of preference at any shift, enabling them to build deeper local language skills and become more valuable to the company. This enables operations to accommodate diverse labor pools and quickly scale productivity levels.

7. Solution flexibility
Reconciling systems from multiple vendors can be a challenge, leading operations to dedicate significant IT resources to integration in order to reap the full benefit of technology investments. Intelligrated’s flexible voice platform enables easy integration with other Intelligrated system components or existing facility infrastructure. Combined with a WES, WMS, WCS or ERP system, Intelligrated voice solutions come as a fully-integrated solution that not only provides clear task instructions, but communicates and interacts with multiple enterprise software systems. On the floor, it’s compatible with the broadest range of rugged, non-proprietary mobility hardware, avoiding vendor lock-in while quickly embracing the latest mobility innovations that come to market.

Discover the efficiency gains and cost savings from voice technology by downloading Intelligrated’s ROI of voice picking white paper.

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Understanding accumulation technology choices leads to better solutions for operations

Conveyor is conveyor. That might be the thought while touring a sophisticated distribution operation with miles of roller conveyor, but various technologies have many subtle differences in order to transport items with built-in accumulation functionality. Conveyor features and functionality can vary greatly by manufacturer and application, but in general, accumulation conveyors can be broken into three high-level categories – each with its own balance of throughput, control and investment level. Making the right selection requires careful consideration and understanding of the technologies and expected material flow through a system.  Conveyor is not always conveyor.

Medium-pressure accumulation

Medium-pressure accumulation conveyors typically utilize a flat drive belt to apply adjustable pressure to conveyor rollers without logical control of the accumulation function. As product starts to accumulate because of a stop in downstream conveyor, the drive continues to run and rollers underneath continue to turn, resulting in back pressure on accumulated products. Medium-pressure accumulation conveyors are typically most appropriate when handling same- or similar-size products that closely match the width of the conveyor. Product should also be capable of withstanding slight back pressure.

This constant pressure is equivalent to driving a car in traffic while maintaining slight pressure on the gas pedal - the car still powers forward after contacting the bumper ahead.

Medium-pressure accumulation conveyors often operate in facilities that rarely require accumulation, as too much back pressure can result in side-by-sides, item damage and jams.

Zero-pressure accumulation

Zero-pressure accumulation conveyors consist of rollers divided into zones that drop in sequence as products accumulate. The system uses a flat, narrow belt or padded chain as the drive mechanism, raised or lowered by pneumatic actuators to apply drive pressure to rollers and move product. As product runs downstream, pneumatic actuators release air to lower the drive mechanism and remove pressure on rollers, allowing the item to coast to a stop. Zero-pressure accumulation conveyors often operate in distribution and fulfillment facilities where the product mix consists of a wide range of sizes and weights.

Zero-pressure accumulation equates to releasing the gas pedal before colliding with stopped cars in front. As the car coasts to a stop, it contacts the one in front.

The ideal zero-pressure accumulation conveyors remove drive pressure early enough to prevent side-by-sides, jams or damage, but late enough to remove all air gaps between items. This maximizes the number of items along a given length of conveyor for optimum accumulation density.

Zero contact accumulation

Zero contact accumulation conveyors provide the best carton control and lowest risk of product damage by instantly stopping accumulation zones to prevent items from contacting each other. One method to power this type of accumulation is one or two motor-driven rollers (MDR) connected via o-bands to other non-powered rollers to control each accumulation zone. MDR conveyors use “run-on-demand” technology that provides significant energy savings, only operating when necessary to move product to the next zone. Other benefits include low operating noise and an inherently safer operation since the motor only needs to be large enough to power a short zone, rather than an entire conveyor.

Zero contact accumulation is most similar to how people normally drive. Cars only move forward when space in front of them is open and come to a stop before contacting the car in front.

The ideal zero-pressure accumulation conveyors remove drive pressure early enough to prevent side-by-sides, jams or damage, but late enough to remove all air gaps between items. This maximizes the number of items along a given length of conveyor for optimum accumulation density.

One example of an application that may be best suited for zero contact accumulation is an operation with bagged packaging. The logical operation of zero contact accumulation prevents items from contacting one another and overlapping, reducing the risk of problems and the need for manual intervention.

For more information on understanding the best accumulation conveyor for your operation, along with a comparison of each based on key criteria including throughput, back pressure, product damage and product-handling flexibility, read the Intelligrated white paper Selecting the right accumulation conveyor.

Workforce challenges? LMS helps operations do more with less

The MHI U.S. Material Handling and Logistics roadmap indicates a shrinking pool of qualified labor and high turnover rates due to retiring baby boomers and a lack of skilled younger workers to replace them. As turnover increases, competition for labor drives higher base wages, leading businesses to place a premium on improved employee performance and measurable returns on workforce investment. 
 
For operations with more than 50 employees working the floor, labor management software (LMS) can deliver significant performance gains beyond basic in-house tools and the addition of extra staff. With automated functionality, in-depth reporting and thorough analysis, it frees management to look beyond simple labor tracking to unlock new levels of productivity that eclipse the capabilities of alternative solutions. 
 
Investment in LMS helps management and employees to:
 
Understand corporate objectives
An effective LMS implementation simplifies communication of strategic goals, expectations and actual operational metrics. This infuses transparency into worker performance evaluation by enabling employees to understand their achievements in relation to business objectives. This transparency eliminates discontent due to perceptions of unfairness or allegations of favoritism and boosts worker confidence, ultimately reducing turnover and improving labor performance. 
 
Increase engagement
By connecting employee output with business goals, LMS fuels career development and improves overall employee engagement. With engineered labor standards, employees work towards clearly-defined, realistic targets with the confidence that their actions yield both personal and operational benefit. This approach produces consistent individual development that results in benefit for the entire operation as overall throughput improves with incremental individual gains. 
 
Discover new opportunities for improvement
LMS automatically tracks labor and provides extensive reporting and analysis to release supervisors from the time-consuming burden of manual reporting. This frees management to spend time coaching and observing employees to take remedial action and identify process improvements to implement with the rest of the workforce.  As DCs look for the most efficient way to utilize scarce labor, a robust LMS can also look beyond a single facility and leverage the entire distribution network, helping management to discover new opportunities for consistent, year-over-year improvement and make more informed decisions that maximize available labor.
 
Use analytics to make your business smarter
As operations extract productivity and efficiency gains from individual locations, they can compare multiple facilities within their distribution network according to overall output, individual processes and labor performance. Even if some facilities have different names for the same process, an LMS can execute apples-to-apples comparisons by equating different names with the same function. For example, the same process may be known as “receiving” in a manual facility, but be called “induction” in an automated DC. On the ground, these multisite analytics encourage healthy competition against other locations across the country, rather than potentially damaging rivalries amongst co-workers in the same facility.
 
Optimize labor to face the challenges of tomorrow
For an industry in flux, the flexibility of LMS positions it to solve today’s labor challenges and adapt to emerging issues. Labor is the most flexible fulfillment tool in the distribution arsenal, and LMS offers the most efficient means to tailor the workforce to meet operational challenges. Whether onboarding new employees, updating experienced workers or incentivizing process improvements, LMS offers an effective platform to drive a culture of individual accountability and continuous improvement.
 
For more information on improving workforce efficiency and productivity, read the Intelligrated white paper: Do more with less: How to thrive in a challenging labor market.
 
 

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