With Ocado recently announcing that it plans to introduce further robotics in to its US warehouses full automation of the warehouse seems like an increasing reality. While this may be the right path for some businesses, full automation is not the right choice for everyone, especially if the throughput of goods within the warehouse is variable or even unpredictable.
It can take many years to recuperate ROI in warehouse automation systems. Can warehouse managers really foresee business requirements so far in advance, especially in this constantly-evolving world of ecommerce and omnichannel consumer demand? Once an automated system is in place it’s very difficult, not to mention costly, to modify. At a recent Honeywell-hosted round table on key trends in warehousing, a number of senior logistics managers highlighted a move away from focus on achieving economies of scale to prioritising operational agility and flexibility.
Voice – directed picking, on the other hand, gives warehouse managers flexibility, providing a true example of how technology and human operators provide the optimum solution. Workers receive step-by-step instructions on where to go and what to pick via a headset and belt-worn portable device. Upon completion of each step they speak a confirmation, which is fed back to the warehouse management system in real-time. Warehouse managers can follow the progress of the warehouse team, and move workers around as business needs dictate. The fact that workers are provided with these instructions also means that they can adapt to new tasks very quickly, further increasing their agility.
What’s more, voice-directed picking has been shown to increase efficiency levels by some 30 percent in many warehouses, with a proven accuracy rate of 99.98%.
This combination of speed and accuracy allows businesses to meet the needs of an increasingly demanding environment without hedging all of their bets on full automation.