Voice-directed work specialist Vocollect expects to start trials which combine radio frequency identification (RFID) and voice direction systems - so-called talking tags - in a UK chilled distribution centre by the end of the year.
Vocollect's systems are usually linked to warehouse management systems (WMSs) and can be used in conjunction with barcode scanners. But in a move designed to raise worker productivity even further, the systems will soon be evaluated alongside RFID to assist with asset tracking and product validation work. The UK project follows early stage trials on ambient products carried out in the US.
"RFID is complementary to voice since both are hands-free," says Vocollect business development manager Anton du Preez. "There is clearly a fit."
While voice systems can be linked to other hand-held devices for multi-functional working, linking to RFID could present some exciting new productivity gains since most distribution errors are the result of items being placed in the wrong location, claims Vocollect. With the combined capability of voice and RFID, staff could be notified immediately if a given product contained the wrong items, was expired or had been recalled, according to a paper produced by Vocollect called Moving toward the talking tag.
Voice-directed work systems incorporate voice profile recognition, which accommodate different languages and dialects. Existing Vocollect customers include foodservice companies Brakes, which plans to roll-out systems to nine or 10 of its sites, and 3663. According to du Preez, reseller Psion Teklogix installed the UK's first "end-to-end" voice direction system for 3663 covering everything from goods receipt to truck loading of finished products.
"It is used for a lot more than picking," he says. "They have had superb efficiency and productivity gains ... it's not about being told what to do; it's an interaction."
Systems are used in ambient, chilled and frozen warehouses and du Preez claims 15-30% productivity improvements over conventional paper and hand-held scanner-based handling systems. "It comes from cutting out stops in the process," says du Preez, who adds: "There is also a huge accuracy gain over paper." While the accuracy gain over scanning is less, there is still a benefit - most notably in dense picking faces, he says.
Frozen food catering supplier Apetito is another client, whose system was installed by Vocollect reseller Voiteq. This was part of the company's deployment by integration specialist CSI of an SAP R/3 warehouse management module into its customer service and distribution centre at Portbury.
Bulmers Magners cider based at Clonmel in Ireland, installed a system which went live earlier this year. It is now said to be achieving an accuracy of 99.9% and has provided a return on investment in less than 12 months.
And, also in Ireland, supermarket chain Superquinn has invested in excess of €400,000 with Irish Psion Teklogix partner Heavey RF to replace a label stock picking system with advanced voice picking technology. The solution included a wireless network, handheld and forklift mounted computers and full integration into the host SAP system.
To date, the system has improved Superquinn's pick rate by 20% and has improved accuracy to current levels of 99.8% with further improvements expected. It was installed in Superquinn's Blanchardstown warehouse in Dublin, which is managed by supply chain provider, Wincanton Logistics.