The continuous growth in demand for same day deliveries, free e-turns and online transactions is already putting distribution centres under pressure. And, with this year’s Black Friday expected to be the busiest to date, the upcoming peak season is likely to multiply the demand.
To cater for this, many operators have been relying on seasonal help, but the decline in the number of seasonal workers from the EU is now making it difficult to respond to peak time requirements. That’s why, with business continuity at stake, forward-thinking operators are turning to technology to overcome these challenges and boost productivity.
Here Darrel Williams, sales director EMEA, Voice Solutions, Honeywell, outlines five ways in which leveraging the latest voice technology and data analytics can help distribution centres improve efficiency and productivity to ensure successful operation during, and beyond, Black Friday.
1. Eliminate paperwork
In a hectic distribution centre environment, paper-based processes can stand in the way of greater productivity. If workers need to continuously interrupt their main tasks to consult a handheld paper checklist, fill inventory forms or read instructions, valuable time is wasted.
TIP: Eliminating paperwork through voice-guided solutions can help boost productivity, as workers are able to turn their full attention to completing the job at hand. They can keep their hands and eyes free to focus on their tasks, such as picking orders. Honeywell’s customers have reported achieving significant improvements through this technology, with UK bicycle manufacturer Raleigh, for example, saying that it has enabled workers to fill orders up to 25 percent faster.
2. Optimise training time
Seasonal workers are critical for the smooth running of many warehouse and distribution operations. However, training new and often inexperienced workers can be time consuming, especially if resources are already stretched.
TIP: Voice solutions can help minimise the time spent on onboarding new workers, as the simple instructions they receive via headsets guide them throughout every step of the job. Picking, for example, can be carried out with little training, as specialised headsets and belt-worn devices instruct the worker on where to go and what action to perform next.
3. Improve accuracy
Picking errors cost distribution centres around the globe £250,000 - £300,000 a year on average. At peak time, with new staff trying to cope with the influx of new orders, the potential for mistakes and costly delays is multiplied.
TIP: Voice technology helps minimise the room for error as workers follow simple voice commands, confirming their actions using a very limited range of vocabulary. This can help improve accuracy and free workers from the stressful task of managing these critical processes manually.
4. Build in flexibility
The ability to adapt quickly to changing market needs is increasingly becoming key to the success of distribution and logistics operations. However, this needs to be integrated into core operations in order to be able to quickly respond to retailer, and ultimately customer, requirements.
TIP: Together with the latest software and cloud-based platforms, voice technology can help distributors keep on top of inventory in real-time, easily re-assign warehouse staff to where they are most needed – even between locations and tasks – and minimise overall downtime.
5. Empower workers
Recruiting new workers, especially for seasonal roles, is becoming increasingly difficult. The use of latest worker-focused technology, such as voice solutions, can help make these posts more attractive as workers only need to possess a minimal skillset to be able to perform the tasks successfully. This is particularly useful for recent migrants who have not yet mastered the language perfectly.
TIP: Voice solutions, such as Honeywell’s ‘trained’ voice recogniser, can be taught to recognise the user’s accent when saying the voice commands, so that they can interact with the system even if they are unable to pronounce the words perfectly.