Man-machine interaction in logistics

Intelligent assistance systems support employees in their strengths.

Are manual processes still relevant in times of increasing digitalisation and automation? A question that is being intensively discussed in the logistics industry. If manually performed work steps no longer have any place in the warehouse, then this development also has consequences for the employees – at least that’s how it appears at first glance. It is certain that man and machine each have strengths and weaknesses. That is why manual processes have to be integrated into the value-added supply chain in the future as well, while at the same time being made more efficient. This requires technical support. Software-controlled assistance systems such as Voice Picking guide people in their work in the warehouse and ensure a significant increase in efficiency.

The logistics industry is under high performance pressure. The demands on efficiency, quality, ergonomics and transparency are constantly increasing. To manage this complex situation, automation solutions are becoming more and more important in the warehouse. An increase in the networking of the supply chain, the use of robots and integration of self-learning systems ensure that all processes – from incoming goods to order picking and distribution – are performed quickly and transparently. Automation has intralogistics firmly under control – at least that’s what it seems from a bird’s eye view. Does this mean, that there will soon be deserted warehouses? A closer reflection reveals that this scenario will not become reality in the short and medium term. In fact, even in the age of digitalisation, manually executed processes do still have their justification – and that will not change any time soon. Humans convince above all with their cognitive abilities. They are able to make intuitive decisions and can solve highly complex tasks better than for instance robotic systems. An employee is also better at implementing customer-specific requirements, such as value-added services in product handling. Machines reveal their strengths when moving heavy loads. However, manual processes will not disappear from the warehouse. Instead, the focus will be on optimising the interaction between technology and warehouse staff in order to achieve maximum efficiency at all levels. The world of technology and that of people will continue to merge and complement one another, so that both will grow together to form a powerful unit.

Intelligent assistance systems

Despite their cognitive superiority, humans are dependent on the support of assistance systems. Because especially in logistics, mistakes often have serious consequences for companies. Inaccuracies in order picking are time-consuming at best, but at worst they lead to the wrong goods being delivered. Yet always they are an undesirable cost factor. Intelligent assistance systems such as Voice Picking make intralogistics processes more efficient. The success story of the voice-guided picking process began in the late 1990s. Since then, Voice Picking has developed continuously – and today it does much more than just control the picking process. Voice solutions can be used to connect all processes within the warehouse and thus guarantee a continuous digital data flow in the sense of Logistics 4.0. The direct connection of the voice application to the higher-level warehouse management or ERP system allows all downstream processes such as supply control or orders to be initiated quickly. Voice technology is now used across all industries and thus represents a future-oriented de facto standard. Over the past two decades, many companies have realised that by integrating voice-controlled solutions, they benefit from enormous time savings, a significant increase in productivity and a reduction in errors. Voice Picking guides employees through the warehouse like a navigation device and thus significantly reduces picking errors: the error rate averages only 0.08 percent. In comparison, paper-based picking performs much worse with an average error rate of 1.5 percent.

The most natural way of communication

The high acceptance of voice solutions is related to the fact that voice is the most natural way of communication. As a result, the assistance system can be operated intuitively, eliminating long training periods. In addition, modern Voice Picking solutions function speaker-independently, so that even temporary employees can work directly with the system. Moreover, Voice Picking can be implemented using various hardware components that offer decisive ergonomic advantages. For example, employees wear the required technology, such as picking vests, directly on their bodies. Microphones and hardware are integrated in the wearables. In line with the Hands-free-eyes-free concept, employees have both hands free and can therefore concentrate fully on their core activity – namely picking There are also no annoying elements that affect the employee’s field of vision or cables that restrict freedom of movement. Apart from auditory systems, optical assistance systems such as Pick-by-Vision are also used. The combination of Voice Picking and Pick-by-Vision has proven to be very effective.  On a smart device, such as a Smart Watch, Tablet or Smart Glass, the pickers receive additional information for an order, for example, on the article, certain packing or safety instructions. In combination with voice, this significantly increases process reliability.

In direct comparison, manual assistance systems offer several advantages as opposed to automation solutions. Depending on the order situation, the hardware and software of the manual assistance systems can be extended for a certain period of time by rental or SaaS models, for example during seasonal order peaks. This option enables companies to efficiently master the challenges of volatility in logistics processes. Automation solutions lack this level of flexibility. In addition, they are accompanied by significantly higher investment and maintenance costs.

Integration instead of displacement

No matter which assistance system a company decides on: In times of digitalisation and networking, they ensure an increase in productivity for manual activities. At the same time, solutions such as Voice Picking improve employee satisfaction because they meet the requirements of ergonomic working practices. More and more advanced systems integrate humans in the digital supply chain. Software-controlled assistance systems ensure that employees will continue to play an important role within intralogistic processes in the future. As an important component in the context of Logistics 4.0, Voice Picking technologies will continue their triumphal march through warehouses and contribute decisively to the digitalisation of intralogistics processes. Just like humans, voice solutions will never disappear from the warehouse – they will only be adapted to the changing needs.

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