A picker in a voice-picking warehouse wears a headset that enables them to listen to an automated voice that gives them location and item information that they use to go pick the next order. A pick-to-voice system can lead to more productivity because it frees up the picker’s hands so they are quicker at physically removing and process the item.

“So if you got a lot of full cases or a lot of pallets that you’re picking, pick-to-voice can increase your picker productivity,” says Jeff Gusdorf, a consultant at Brown Smith Wallace, a St. Louis-based public accounting firm. “The advantage of a voice system is that your people can work hands free and eye free. They don’t have to look at the gun. They can look at the bin and that may increase the likelihood they are picking the right item.”

Many voice-to-pick systems consist of user functionality that allows the picker to control the volume of the automated voice, repeat the order or fast-forward through an order when necessary.

The distributor may not experience enough productivity improvement to make an investment in voice-picking if the enterprise typically fills orders that consist of a lot of items, the items are small or if the items are typically spread out throughout in the warehouse.

“If you are picking out of one zone where your cases or pallets are, you are going to experience that productivity improvement that you want,” says Gusdorf. “If things are happening really fast, the picker’s ability to retain all that information and do the right thing is degraded.”

Voice-directed picking is considerably more expensive than bar coding because of the complexity of the system it relies on.

“It tends to be as accurate as bar-code scanning but it is also subject of pickers making mistakes if the right controls are not in place,” says Dick Friedman, owner of General Business Consultants, Wilmette, Illinois.

Brendan O’Brien is a freelance writer based in Greenfield, Wisconsin.