Designed to boost the efficiency and reliability of order pickers in warehouses and distribution centers, experts note that voice picking enables facilities to operate in fast-paced settings. In beverage distribution, solutions like voice picking can guarantee higher efficiency and reliability on operations.

John Seidl, partner at Atlanta-based GreyOrange, says that voice picking is in high demand primarily because of its accuracy performance rates.

“According to one vendor, voice picking can be up to 85 percent more accurate, and up to 35 percent more productive,” he says. “When the system is hands- and eyes-free, the warehouse associate needs only focus on the task in front of them while executing a simpler process: no paperwork, mobile devices—  nothing to distract them from being productive.”

The system also is safer because of the reduction in distractions for the picker, as well being more efficient, Seidl adds.

In an August article by Six River Systems titled “50 warehouse automation stats you should know,” India-based Westernacher Consulting explains that typically, companies see about a 25 percent gain in overall productivity when moving from a paper-based system of picking to a combination of automation technologies that includes voice-direct technology.

COVID-19 and eCommerce impact

As consumer purchase patterns have shifted, beverage distributors are turning to voice-pick solutions.

Mark Wheeler, director of supply chain solutions for Lincolnshire-Ill.-based Zebra Technologies, notes that with the overall growth in eCommerce driving both case picking and each pick, there is a growing need for voice solutions that fit the pick density of a particular operation.

“The rise of eCommerce is impacting the need for voice-picking technology, with the shift toward smaller orders with rapid order turnaround that can dramatically change the fit of voice technology as the right modality for an operation,” he says. “If the pick is too dense, voice can be a slow modality, and if it’s not dense enough, the [return on investment] (ROI) is not strong enough to support the investment. For beverage, however, case pick for outbound distribution often is a good fit for voice picking.”

However, the rise of eCommerce is not the only aspect impacting beverage distribution. Leaving no corner of distribution untouched, the pandemic also has impacted the need for automated technologies. Wheeler notes that social distancing and hygiene practices related to COVID-19 have resulted in a shift to zone-based picking to help maintain social distancing.

“To maintain good hygiene, proper voice-directed headsets allow for separation from the frame and technology components, allowing it to be permanently assigned to a user,” he says.

In beverage operations, GreyOrange’s Seidl notes that VDW is a productivity boost in its “temperature controlled environments, clean environments, and in high-volume case-pick operations.”

Voice picking’s evolution

As voice picking popularity grows, suppliers are advancing the technology with the development of wearable solutions as well as unique displays that improve efficiency.

For example, Zebra Technologies offers a wearable monocular HD4000 head-mounted display that can be tethered to a mobile computer and provide all-day power and increased productivity to workers who benefit from hands-free, directed-action workflows.

“This solution reduces training time and enables customers to optimize workflows, maximize productivity and improve employee onboarding with or without voice,” Wheeler says. “Zebra Technologies also has smaller wearable Bluetooth devices ideal for voice picking, such as the RS5100 ring scanner, which helps improve worker productivity by freeing up workers’ hands.”

GreyOrange’s Seidl adds that voice picking integrated with collaborative mobile robots (CMR) is a recent development that combines two technologies to support picking of products that don’t have the velocity or handling characteristics to be suited for a good-to-person robotics solution.

“With the CMR guiding the associate through the physical site locations and the voice-picking solution delivering the task assignments, the two combine to further boost productivity,” he says. “For beverage, this can mean improved order cycle times and more accurate orders, meaning happier customers.”

However, voice technology is not without its own limitations.

Traceability is one limitation of voice-picking technology. It’s difficult to capture data or lot codes, serial numbers, pack level validation, and other information, such as country of origin using only voice,” Zebra Technologies’ Wheeler says. “However, GS1 standards make the use of wearable scanning a valuable add-on for many voice applications.”

Wheeler notes that memorization is another limitation of voice-picking technology, as voice-only implementations are susceptible to pickers memorizing the check digits, particularly for high-volume items. When they do, he says they can work faster, but it eliminates the value of error-proofing the pick location and can lead to shipment errors.

To solve this, he says, wearable scanning is preferred by operations that demand high accuracy or that need to capture extended item data.

According to the “Global Voice Picking Solution Market (2019-2025)” report by New York-based KBV research, the global voice picking solution market size is expected to reach $2.9 billion by 2025, rising at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 15.3 percent. 

Contributing to this is the adoption of wearable displays using augmented reality.

“Voice-picking tech can continue to benefit beverage manufacturers because it applies best to outbound case-level order picking for distribution,” Wheeler explains. “Voice-centric workflow applications will become more adept at integrating the wearable display and scanning into their applications.”