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Voice Distribution Systems
Productivity gains of ten to twenty percent and reductions in error rates of between 50 and 95 percent are the claims made by companies that have adopted voice distribution systems. It appears that the costs of adopting voice technology, particularly in warehouse situations, can be well worth it in terms of production efficiency and ultimately cost savings.

Voice technology refers to wearable computers that relay information through a headset rather than the traditional information display on a screen. These devices can also receive input via voice through a microphone.

The primary benefits from these types of systems are to be found in the warehouse, although there are numerous other potential applications as well. The benefits to order picking alone can quickly offset the price of the system. Why? Because it is hands free. The picker does not have to refer to a screen or to a paper list to determine what needs to be removed from the shelves. He or she receives that information by voice as the work is actually being done. Error rates improve dramatically. After all, its hard to get on the wrong line or transpose a number when the information is verbal rather than written. Picks also become much faster - generally increasing by at least 10-20 percent because the worker does not have to stop and check a list to see what needs to be done next. He or she can quickly go from one task to another, receiving instructions along the way.

Picking is not the only warehouse function that can be improved through voice technology either. Goods receiving, stock checking, and numerous other functions can be streamlined as well. Some eerts estimate that the order checking process can be improved by as much as 25 percent by using voice technology.

Further savings can be realized from the fact that each worker does not have to have his or her own headset. The units can be traded between shifts, effectively doing double or triple duty. And, because they dont require any physical manipulation, they even have advantages over handheld devices in terms of utility and ease of operation.

Many companies have estimated that they see a return on investment from voice technology systems in under a year, and some say that they have recouped their investment in as little as six months. Of course, the actual savings depends on the type of company using the technology and how it this company operates. However, estimates of typical savings show picking efficiency gains of just under 30 percent, error reductions of nearly 40 percent, order checking gains of almost 25 percent and stationery gains of nearly ten percent.

Some of the things a company should consider before planning to implement a voice technology system are capitol expenditure, rate of return, and the businesss cost per error. The cost required to correct errors, including lost revenue and loss of good will, even though they are difficult to measure, should be considered. If the costs of errors are calculated as accurately as possible and measured against the capitol outlay required and the estimated savings to be realized, it isnt hard to see why voice technology will pay for itself. Most estimates indicated that the savings outweigh the costs and in fairly short order.

Some of the worlds largest retailers and warehouses are rapidly adopting voice technology and realizing large gains in efficiency. This increases the pressure on smaller operators to do so as well just to remain competitive.

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