Vocollect integrates voice with scanning

The new Talkman A700 is the supply chain industry’s first wearable solution integrating voice with hands-free scanning in one device

Vocollect integrates voice with scanning
Vocollect integrates voice with scanning

By mailto:anna.game-lopata@bauertrader.com.au">Anna Game-Lopata | May 27, 2013

Picking to voice in the warehouse or distribution centre (DC) is nothing new, but surprisingly, given the potential of the technology and its relatively wide adoption, applications have been quite narrow.

According to leading voice technology specialist Vocollect — this is all about to change.

Vocollect, which is a business unit of mobile technologies company Intermec, has just launched a new solution, the Talkman A700, which it says will expand the implementation of voice into new applications such as receiving, put-away, replenishment outbound and reverse logistics as well as beyond the DC into new vertical markets.

Speaking exclusively with SupplyChain Review, Vocollect Vice President of Product Management Jay Armant says Australia, New Zealand and the Asia Pacific are the company’s key growth markets.

"We are starting to see a real increase in the interest and adoption of voice per year in the region," he says.

In the traditional markets of the United States and Europe, Armant says users are recognising voice technology as an opportunity to cut costs by reducing waste, reducing order errors and improving customer service.

"Voice plays a key role in traceability, one of the top priorities for businesses, according to Gartner research," Armant says.

"Instead of having to scan a barcode you can speak a four-digit pick code which will identify a lot or a batch, with all the relevant information related to a particular case, box or pack. You can track a particular case in your own warehouse as well as on a truck."

The new Talkman A700 solution facilitates hands-free scanning for process steps, such as, inducting totes at the beginning of assignments, batch-picking, and product traceability, while retaining the ergonomic and performance benefits of a compact, purpose-built mobile device.

Jay Armant says the solution was born out of the desire to eliminate the need for the multiple devices or peripherals an operator needs for daily work activities.

"We looked at how we can combine voice with a readily acceptable mobile device and integrate the software and headset," Armant explains.

"While in the current environment a worker may utilise a voice device as well as a hand-held barcode scanner, the Talkman A700 solution enables the scanning function using a device a worker wears on his or her belt."

Trialled by a variety of Vocollect partners and customers, the advantages of removing a hand-held scanner from the picking process were quickly confirmed.

"In the past we have deployed Bluetooth ring scanners to support scanning in voice workflows," Manhattan Associates Senior Director Hardware Systems Bill Morris says.

"All indications are that eliminating the extra piece of equipment, the additional battery required to power the scanner, and the management of pairing the Bluetooth scanners to the Vocollect Talkman A700 solution will be beneficial in both productivity and reduction of maintenance."

Dematic Vice President and General Manager of Software and Supply Chain Intelligence Robert Nilsson adds growing software capabilities in warehouse controls mean voice direction can be executed with quality control and product tracking functions that require a scanning device.

"Having these capabilities
improves efficiency and delivers a better customer experience," he says.

Additionally, the mobile scanning device is designed with a configurable ‘end cap’, which can be used to incorporate a variety of technologies such as RFID or imaging depending on future business requirements.

Importantly too, Armant says the Talkman A700 is also a "premier ergonomic experience".

"This new device is about 30 percent lighter than an average hand-held scanner and it fits snugly to the user’s body with a belt clip in a similar way to a cell phone," he says.

"At the same time the device is rugged and durable for the industrial environment.

Given the cost of a scanner can be anything between $400 and $900, Armant says taking it out of the equation enables a significant reduction in cost of ownership.

Another cost-saving measure is the SRX2 wireless headset’s detachable electronic speech recognition module, which allows it to be shared by workers across shifts.

"As the engine which drives speech recognition for the solution, the electronic module is the most expensive part of the headset," Armant says.

"By making it detachable, organisations with workers across three shifts no longer have to acquire three separate, fully functional headsets.

"They can simply buy three headbands, which are reasonably inexpensive at about $30 each and share the main electronics module."

The SRX2 headset is also freezer certified for a full shift and utilises Vocollect’s ‘Sound Sense’ technology, which reduces unwanted sounds by 50 percent.

"The SRX2 blocks out all those insertions such as pallets falling or a fork lift driving past, and focuses on the commands coming from the user’s mouth," Armant says.

Vocollect RapidStart technology provides workers with consistent, self-guided education, minimising supervisory coaching time and increasing the speed of worker competency.

Another interesting new component of the Talkman A700 is the introduction of ‘personalised voices’, similar to the way drivers can now set their global positioning system (GPS) units to speak with male or female voices and different accents.

"The capability to select the kind of voice they want instead of a computerised voice is a new release as part of the solution," Armant says.

"It shows Vocollect’s flexibility in providing a top worker experience and looking out for what’s in the best interests of the customer."

Armant is also keen to dispel what he calls "myths around voice", such as; that it is expensive and difficult to integrate."We have out-of-the-box integration to all the standard warehouse management systems [WMS] in the market like Manhattan, High Jump, RedPrairie, Infor and SAP," he says.

"Our integration approach is also flexible enough to manage a home-grown system with no dominant WMS player or one utilising a smaller niche system. We need to educate the community as well as our prospects going forwards about this aspect of it."

While he says Vocollect will continue its focus on voice for the DC, where the company has developed its expertise, Armant reveals to deliver the "hyper growth we like to see", new markets for the technology are being sought.

"We’re looking at expanding into the public sector, government, in-premise inspection, field service, in-store fulfilment and direct store delivery to expand our offering and solutions into different markets," he says.

For example, Vocollect has interest in the use of hands-free technology to allow technicians servicing cars to communicate the results of inspections without the need to carry a tablet or push any buttons.

"We’re also seeing an uptake from the US government, defence and the public service for maintenance activities performed on tanks, aircraft or other assets," Armant adds.

"There’s also a lot of traction around in-store fulfilment, with Vocollect voice technology utilised to have online orders picked and ready in the store when a customer arrives to collect it.

"Our message is: we aim to help companies run a better business."

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