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According to Zetes, the auto ID solution specialists, UK companies are being uncharacteristically slow to adopt voice-based technologies in their distribution centres compared with the rest of continental Europe.
Zetes is looking to counter this and influence more of the UKs major retailers and logistics companies to adopt voice, as it is the only solution which allows parallel tasking, enabling companies to simultaneously optimise both productivity and accuracy levels compared to paper- or handheld-based solutions.
Zetes began implementing voice solutions at many of continental Europes top tier retailers and logistics companies over 5 years ago, yet in the UK, only a fraction of the larger players have opted for voice, and we believe they are missing a big opportunity, says James Hannay, Managing Director of Zetes UK.
Many UK retailers have instead opted for wearable hands-free solutions, which, from an initial cost perspective are slightly cheaper than dedicated voice solutions. However, factor in productivity increases and the benefits of voice far outweigh other widely used alternatives such as barcode scanning. Based on Zetes experience, implementing a voice solution typically delivers a payback after between 6 and 13 months. In addition, warehouse pickers work between 8 to 25% faster and achieve almost 100% accuracy levels.
Zetes believes a contributing factor to the slow adoption of voice, so far, may be due to a lack of suppliers with the required capability to either advocate the benefits of voice or to offer the ongoing support necessary to maintain these solutions.
Another reason for this relative slowness may be due to the types of WMS (warehouse management systems) being used by companies. Unlike the rest of Europe, the UK is strongly influenced by major US software specialists, who have little market penetration within the rest of Europe. In many cases, these vendors manage their software development out of the US and we believe this may be hindering the adoption of voice says Hannay. This is because voice is not a plug and go system and never will be - it requires a high degree of specialisation and integration into existing systems. Zetes has found that in other European countries Germany for example there is a much higher concentration of local specialist software providers offering WMS with the capability to integrate voice. For UK companies, it is not so straightforward to integrate voice into an existing WMS because the development work is frequently conducted in the US and this results in a much tougher and costlier process. To help alleviate this problem, Zetes has invested in its 3iV Connector, a standard interface that supports multiple architectures, which makes the integration between WMS and voice applications more affordable and flexible, and provides the ability to hook up to any host system, removing problems relating to the connection with different logistics packages.
The benefits of using voice technology are as follows:
- Reduced levels of errors. Voice allows the retailer or distribution centre to build in checks for each action. Typically customers experience between 0.2% 0.5% errors for paper based or handheld terminal picking, dropping to below 0.1% for voice. A leading European retailer experienced a 10% reduction in damage to forklifts & powered trollies.
- Enables multi-tasking. Voice leaves hands and eyes free allowing staff to multi-task, for instance, driving and speaking, which supports an increase in productivity of up to 25%.
- Reduced training time. It is very straightforward to train users of voice applications.
- Improved ergonomics. Allowing workers to have both hands free is much safer and avoids injury and strain.
- Robustness of system. Average uptimes for voice systems are high making maintenance costs lower overall.
- Improved productivity of personnel. Voice systems create a more even distribution of productivity levels across a distribution centre, with speed and quality of work more equalised among different workers. This results in a better ability to forward plan warehouse efficiencies.
ZETES INDUSTRIES (Euronext Brussels : ZTS) is a leading pan-European company in the value-added solutions and services industry for Automatic Identification of Goods and People (Goods ID and People ID). Zetes uses both emerging and mature technologies (barcode, voice recognition, RFID, smartcards, biometrics), and develops Solution Architecture Frameworks to optimize the business performance of many customers in many market segments: manufacturing, transportation, logistics, retail, healthcare, finance, telecommunication, government and public services. The Zetes group has its headquarters in Brussels, with subsidiaries in Belgium, Denmark; Germany, France, Ireland, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland and the UK. Zetes currently employs more than 600 employees (in FTEs) and generated consolidated revenues of 137.5 million in 2006.