When comparing voice picking vs. RF scanning and pick-to-light systems, there are a few factors to consider. This article will analyze the differences each system will bring to your warehouse. While it is possible to utilize two or all of the systems together, this article will focus on each system individually.
All three automated picking systems offer unique ways to increase product throughput and warehouse efficiency. Continue reading to further understand exactly how each system accomplishes this.
Voice Picking, RF Scanning, Pick-To-Light – What They Are & How They Work
RF scanning refers to radio frequency scanning. RF scanning involves a wireless, handheld device that relays communication between the operator and the warehouse system. These devices are one of the most common tools utilized in warehouse operations for order picking.
As stated above, RF scanning connects the operator to the warehouse system. The most common systems are Warehouse Management System (WMS) and Warehouse Execution System (WES).
In RF scanning, the system sends the operator a message with information on which items to pick, the amount, and the location of the pick. Once the message is received by the operator, they then walk to the determined location and send a message to the system notifying that the item has been retrieved. This is completed by scanning the items SKU. If the incorrect SKU is scanned, the operator is notified.
If the correct item is picked and scanned, the system will notify the operator which item to pick next and so on until the order is fulfilled. The operator then receives a message about where to take the order for it to be packed and shipped.
Automated voice picking systems offer solutions to improve warehouse efficiency. In some cases, it can offer greater efficiency than RF scanning does.
Voice picking offers a hands-free picking solution. This results in increased employee safety and efficiency because the operator does not have to look down to receive instruction for the next steps. This results in higher accuracy as well as seconds saved with each step the operator must make (which quickly adds up!).
Voice picking systems utilize headsets and wireless scanners to enable hands-free, single touch pick and pack operation.
With voice picking, the operator is directed by the voice command via the headset for each step in the process. The voice command can be customized to each company’s specific operation.
Here’s an example of the steps taken in a voice pick:
- The voice command will tell the operator that they are to ‘cart pick’ (as opposed to fork truck pick).
- The operator lets the voice command know once they’re at the cart pick location.
- The voice command will direct them to put box size A in position 1, box size C in position 2, and box size D in position 3 on the cart. The operator will confirm once completed.
- The voice command will then direct them to go to the pick locations for each box, providing the optimized pick path.
Pick-to-light systems and put-to light systems are comprised of lighted displays attached to the pick face of each SKU. The lighting configuration can be customized to the distribution center’s needs. These displays can be fixed to any type of racking or shelving system, whether it be existing or new build.
Pick-to-light systems involve the operator scanning the order identifier in a zone. Lighted displays located in each row will change color from red to green, which shows the operator where they need to go. Once there, they will scan the barcode on the pick face, and it will tell them how many of that item to pick.
An example of how a pick-to light operation can work is it can have two different colored lights and a barcode. All lights in a row can be shown as red. Once the operator scans the order identifier in a zone, the lighted display for that item will turn from red to green, showing the operator where they need to go. Once there, they will scan the barcode on the pick face, and it will tell them how many of that item to pick.
Comparison of Advantages and Features
The bar graph below highlights important factors to consider when looking to upgrade your picking system. While all three options offer benefits over paper picking, there are areas where one system may be a better fit than another.
When deciding which picking system will be the best investment, consider elements such as pick accuracy, pick volume, level of employee safety incidents, ease of learning, and cost.
Ease of Learning
These three options offer quick training times because they are relatively easy for employees to learn. Typically, they can be learned in less than one day, even within hours. This allows operations to cut training time significantly and training costs down which results in a more efficient distribution center.
Due to this ease of learning, distribution centers that have seasonal employee fluctuation will find these semi-automation solutions particularly beneficial.
Pick accuracy is important because it reduces profit loss and speeds up warehouse throughput. All three options can improve picking rates from traditional paper picks, but voice picking and pick-to-light tend to have higher accuracy picks than RF scanning.
RF scanning requires the operator to read a command sent through the system. This may result in lower pick accuracy because the operator may misread a command, such as the amount of the item that needs to be picked.
Voice picking systems are one of the most accurate picking options. Voice picking uses voice commands sent directly to the operator via a headset. Once the operator reaches the pick spot, the operator repeats the provided information through the headset. The system will then confirm if the pick is correct.
This takes away the potential for an operator to misread or mispick. While minimal error is inevitable, voice pick accuracy reaches up to 99.9%.
Pick-to-light systems are also highly accurate. Although they are not as accurate as voice picking, they are more accurate than RF scanning. Pick-to-light uses lighted rows with a light under each SKU. The operator will scan a barcode and a green light will appear under the items with the amount of product to be picked. Again, while low, human error can occur such as misreading the amount that must be picked. Pick-to-light accuracy is about 99.6%.
Pick volume speeds up warehouse processes and throughput rates. An automated picking system will help increase pick volume compared to the traditional paper picks.
RF scanners may not be the best choice for your operation if you are basing your decision on highest pick volume. This is because the operator must carry the device in one hand, leaving only the other hand available for picking. Having one hand occupied may also slow down picking times.
Voice picking results in higher volume and quicker picks. This is because a voice picking system that utilizes a wrist scanner will allow the operator to have both of their hands free and engagement forward.
If pick volume is a key driving factor for your choice, a pick-to-light system will most likely be the best option. Pick-to-light systems are the best option for high-speed picking. The guided lights lead the operator directly to the correct location and eliminates the need to walk around searching for the correct SKU location.
Employee safety is one of the most important factors to consider before implementing any system into your operation. Although other factors may add to the efficiency of your warehouse, employee safety is a top priority.
RF scanning requires the operator to look down to receive instruction. This may lead to more safety incidents occurring than with other picking options.
Both voice picking and pick-to-light allow the operator to always keep their engagement forward. With this hands-free approach, safety incidents are lowered. For example, voice picking has been shown to reduce safety incidents by 5% to 20%.
The cost of each system can vary greatly depending on the size of your warehouse and how you plan to use the system. The cost will also be dependent on if you currently utilize a WMS (or similar), which type you use, and how you need to adjust to integrate the picking system.
One thing to note is that the more pick locations you have, the more expensive pick-to-light will be over voice picking and RF scanning. This is due to the fact that a lighted display will have to be installed per each pick location. Since voice picking doesn't require hardware to be installed, it doesn't matter if you have 10 SKUs or 100, it will cost the same for the hardware.
Combining Voice Picking, Pick-To-Light, and RF Scanning
Now that you understand how each system functions individually, you may be curious how they can be integrated together.
It is possible to implement all three into your existing warehouse. Combining two of the three systems is another common option. Generally, both or all automated picking systems connect to the same software system (WMS for example) and work cohesively.
This may increase efficiency, but it depends on your specific operation. If you would like to know more about combining these systems, an expert at REB is ready to discuss.
Your Next Step for an Automated Picking System
There are numerous ways for you to utilize an automated picking system in your warehouse. Whether you have decided which option you feel is best for your operation or you would like further guidance, a REB professional is ready to assist you.
Whether your next step is to gather more information or request a quote, consider REB Storage Systems. REB is a highly experienced systems integrator, in business since 1962. REB has 17 in-house project managers and engineers, all highly experienced in the material handling industry. These people know this industry inside and out.
REB is highly knowledgeable and experienced in designing, engineering, and installing automated picking systems and will make sure your system is the best fit for your space. We work with you to provide a turnkey system. From engineering, design, products procurement, subcontractor management, install, and permitting support, REB handles it all for you.
We’d appreciate the opportunity to help you further, whether that be more information or a quote. Fill in the contact form on this page or call us at (800) 252-5955 to get in touch with a REB representative.