Voice Technology in Distribution Center's

by Deepak Sharma on Friday, May 27, 2005

An article in DC Velocity talks of Voice Recognition technology that optimizes the distribution center workforce.

And in August, Dunkin' Donuts announced that it was installing voice-recognition technology from Voxware to streamline the order picking process. No longer encumbered by clipboards, workers now swarm all over the facility wearing belt-mounted computers and headsets through which they receive (and respond to) picking instructions. Fred the Baker has long since retired, but the workers still hear voices in their headsets telling them it's time—not to make the doughnuts, but to pick a 50-pound bag of flour, or a case of glaze, or a box of coffee beans.


But today, just 36 months later, it's a different story. Engard is now using voice technology in his DC and is more than eager to describe the benefits. Ask him about productivity and you'll get an earful: "In the first week of running the new system, I had workers telling me that I'd have to increase their work load," he says. And it wasn't just the top performers. Within two weeks of the system's installation, even the slowest worker—a picker whose 110-casesper-hour pace had put his job at risk—was consistently exceeding the DC's 200 cases-per-hour goal by 10 cases. The most impressive gains have come from the freezer area, where, under the old paper-based picking system, workers spent up to 20 minutes planning how best to build a pallet. Today, Engard says, the voice system automatically configures the proper picking sequence in seconds.

Accuracy rates have soared too. Prior to the voice system's installation, the DC employed eight people whose sole job was to check outgoing shipments. Today, picking accuracy has reached 99.9 percent, with just one part-time quality checker.

Best thing is that the technology from Voxware is a people-centric solution that maximizes the contribution of each worker, taking into account many variables – such as a worker’s native language, experience level, job role, and abilities – and mapping them dynamically to the job activities at hand. For instance, the system knows the experience and capability level of each employee. It can balance workloads between workers in a team so that the entire group achieves a higher standard. It can give expert workers the ability to take shortcuts for improved productivity while providing extra coaching to temps and trainees. Workers interact with the system using a wearable computer and headset. They hear human voice prompts giving them work instructions, and they speak responses as tasks progress to completion.