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Combining Voice and SAP to streamline warehouse operations

Robert Orben once said, “To err is human – and to blame it on a computer is even more so.” In the old world, warehousing personnel would utilize a manual pick and pull system.

Orders would come in, be printed off and handed off to team members who would find the requested products, check them against their sheet and bring them to shipping for packing.
With the traditional picking process accounting for half of warehouse labor costs, supply chain leaders are always on the lookout for ways to reduce their costs impacting the bottom line. Removing humans from the equation is not the solution, however reducing their possibilities for errors is. In this blog, we’re going to address how an SAP system can be combined with voice technology.

What is and what does SAP?

SAP stands for Systems Applications and Products in data processing. The company offers a range of software solutions and is mostly known for its enterprise resource planning (ERP) software adept at managing business processes and customer relations. The newest version of this is SAP S/4HANA. This ERP integrates all areas of your business, including supply chain. SAP Extended Warehouse Management (SAP EWM) integrates with the ERP and is a solution designed to optimize warehouse and business processes and enhance overall performance. It also includes support for voice-directed systems and picking processes.

How does voice come into play?

When it comes to forms of communication, talking is the most natural – and best way for us as human beings to communicate. That’s why SAP chose to integrate voice technology into its warehouse management system (SAP EWM), thereby combining the world of voice with SAP-based warehouse data and processes. With its open architecture supporting a range of voice integration methods, voice with SAP makes it possible for users to interact with SAP EWM to access or update data through speech interaction. 

Through the use of a headset and mobile device, specific words are used to provide either an update (field input value) or a command. A list of all available commands is available to choose from on the handheld. These verbal inputs are transmitted wirelessly to SAP EWM which makes updates based on the input received.

Voice solutions are specifically designed with the warehouse in mind as they support rapid, reliable voice recognition in noisy, rugged environments while reducing background noise using noise cancellation technology. 

How does it work?

Let’s use the picking process as an example. A distribution center employee begins his shift by retrieving their headsets and handheld devices as they walk out into the warehouse. After signing in, they will begin to get instructions on where in the warehouse to begin picking. As part of their process, pickers confirm receipt of each instruction while completing the pick at the same time and updating SAP in live-time as each pick is finished. 

There are two possible methods when it comes to integrating voice with SAP:

  • Direct – SAP connects directly with the warehouse execution function.
  • Indirect – an intermediary software is used to connect voice and SAP. This is used when more functionality, such as dashboards, labor tracking, etc. is desired from the voice system.

Why use it?

There are advantages to be gained by using voice technologies – some of which include:

  • Reducing costs by streamlining the order fulfillment process
  • Enabling users to access/update the information at any time
  • Increasing accuracy by keeping pickers focused on the task
  • Decreasing training time for new or seasonal employees
  • Eliminating slower paper-based transactions
  • Offering support in more than 40 languages

What can voice do for my warehouse?

Simply put, voice integration creates an equation that goes something like this: a reduction in error rates plus an increase in productivity equals a better bottom line. Case in point – Körber found that across its customers, voice technology improved productivity, accuracy and training time by 35%, 99.9% and 50%, respectively.

While voice technology has its roots in the picking process, it can also be used to improve or enhance other processes within a distribution center. These areas include truck loading, stock replenishment, carousel lines, cycle counting, management of non-complying materials, etc.

Voice might not be the final frontier of efficient warehousing operations – but it’s a critical step in that direction. Supply chain leaders are always looking for creative ways to cut their costs and improve the efficiency of their operations. Voice is also scalable – as your organization grows, this technology keeps up without breaking a sweat. As you consider automated solutions for your operation, you ought to consider voice-directed warehouse systems, too.

So, if you’re ready to learn more about integrating voice technology with SAP, visit us here.

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