Wearable Devices Continue to Dominate the Warehouse Floor

Talking to your smartphone or digital assistance to get directions or ask a question seems part of the course in today’s world. If you’re like most, you have already started using voice services & wearable devices and as each year goes by, you use them more and more.

The reasons people use voice and wearable devices in their daily lives has major impacts on the warehouse space, such as:

  • It’s convenient
  • It’s simple to use
  • It’s faster than typing

In the online direct to consumer world, retailers, consumer packaged goods manufacturers and their supply chain partners are faced with tremendous challenges. Their business processes are geared towards shipping larger bulk orders to stores. But now, they must ship smaller orders with fewer items directly to customers.

This is driving a massive increase in order volumes and shipping locations. Customers are expecting fast shipping, with overnight shipping becoming the new norm. As a result, warehouses need to find new ways to streamline and error proof every aspect of order fulfilment and inventory management.

Voice and wearable devices in the warehouse isn’t anything new, but more recent innovations are getting interesting with easy integration with WMS solutions and customisable dialog options that move beyond picking such as general warehouse operations, equipment status updates, and details on customers.

Zebra Technologies recent study found that 72% of logistics professionals expect to use voice based picking by 2020. Voice picking solutions allow workers to have cues delivered to them to speed up the entire picking process.

Voice picking enables your warehouse team to communicate with their WMS directly, by listening and speaking via a headset connected to a terminal worn on their belt, and revolutionises the way they work.

However,  multi-modal speech directed solutions are becoming more popular. Like VDP solutions,  multi-modal speech directed solutions also utilise spoken instructions from the system. However,  multi-modal speech directed solutions enable additional input modes that are available on wearable systems to simplify and increase task completion speed and accuracy.

For example:-

For workers picking multiple orders simultaneously, in addition to providing voice instructions to the next pick location, a diagram of where to place the item can also be displayed on the screen. Instead of speaking to verify that the right item was selected, workers can simply scan the barcode or RFID tag on the item, shaving seconds off of the validation process and ensuring pick accuracy. And the touchscreen enables workers to enter information with a press of a finger, instead of waiting for the completion of a voice prompt.

A comparison of voice only and  multi-modal speech directed solutions reveals incremental benefits for nearly all aspects of the picking process.


Compared to voice only solutions, multi-modal system users spent:

  • 14.0% less total walking time to complete an order
  • 18.1% less time picking all items in an order
  • 15.4% less time overall fulfilling an order

Third party logistics, warehousing and distribution businesses continue to evolve and advance with the addition of exceptional new technologies. In recent years, wearable devices have provided these businesses with operational improvement, increased flexibility and significant cost savings.

There is a common misapprehension that you do not require a WMS if you are utilising a voice picking solution or vice versa. Voice technology allows multiple processes such as picking, cycle counting, and put away to be automated with voice based interaction with users that significantly improves picking accuracy and times.

However, a voice system with werable devices does not optimise all functions within a warehouse and assign warehouse work in the most optimal way. In addition, a best of breed WMS expands beyond the four walls of the distribution centre to integrate with suppliers (supplier enablement/supplier integration) and customers. These extended features are not found in voice enablement technology.

Voice technology uses speech recognition and speech synthesis to allow workers to communicate verbally with the warehouse management system (WMS).

Workers use a wireless werable devices such as a wearable computer with a headset and microphone, which links to the server via a radio frequency network

Because repetitive processes such as picking put away and general order fulfilment accounts for nearly 70% of operating costs this is an area of focus for many device manufacturers. Devices are designed to optimise these processes, reducing labour costs for high volume supply chain businesses. These devices also help to improve workforce productivity, safety and efficiency with their hands free operation.

By working hands free, warehouse staff can focus more closely on the task at hand with a wider range of motion. This helps to increase employee effectiveness and facilitates timelier task completion. Wearable devices also help to reduce “touchpoints” or the number of steps required to complete a task. By simplifying processes, warehouse staff can complete more tasks in less time – a desirable outcome for high volume order processing. Both labour and device TCO savings can be recognised with the adoption of ruggedised wearables through process optimisation and durable construction. Replacing manual, paper based processes with wearable devices also helps to reduce data entry and inventory processing errors. Warehouse staff can also expect a safer and more comfortable experience when using wearables. They are designed with superior ergonomics, making them easy to handle and operate. And with the superior accessory packages and device configurability supply chain operations will see more device and operational flexibility.

If your 3PL, warehousing or distribution operation could benefit from process optimisation and cost reductions, wearable device implementation is a good first step. With 70% of operating costs hanging in the balance, it is a consideration worth making.

In summary

While voice only speech directed solutions deliver strong 15% to 30% productivity increases in order picking, multi-modal speech directed solutions with wearable devices allow enterprises to achieve an additional 15.4% in incremental productivity over voice only solutions — each worker can now process more orders per day, boosting throughput without hiring additional staff.

When it comes to user preference, participants preferred multi-modal over voice only speech directed solutions for five key reasons:

  1. Overall system performance
  2. Mental effort
  3. Frustration level
  4. Clarity of instructions
  5. Easy to learn

And when presented with the option to view information on the screen as well as hear spoken information, every participant chose to engage with information on screen during every order fulfilled, demonstrating the value of presenting information in multiple formats that allow workers to choose what helps make them the most productive.

WMS integrations solutions make voice implementation straight forward for any size business. The emergence of multi-modal hardware solutions also mean that distribution centers with smaller teams can have team members easily move between voice enabled processes and non-voice processes. Voice technology represents a strong ROI for any distribution professional who wishes to improve productivity, accuracy and the safety of warehouse employees.

About us:

Speak to one of our team to understand how Clarus’ WMS system can cost effectively support best practice warehouse management processes, better customer service and highly efficient working for a range of warehouse operations with pay per month options and no IT infrastructure needed.

Our platform can scale from a one user, small depot system to a 100’s of user distribution centre operation. The ClarusWMS platform will cost effectively scale with your business based on demand.

ClarusWMS is a UK based supplier of warehouse management solutions with a wealth of industry experience in third party logistics, wholesale / retail distribution, online fulfillment and manufacturing warehousing.