Multi-modal is a term that has been used in many industries, but for this blog we are referring to the use of a combination of wireless technologies to improve warehouse operations. This includes barcode scanning, RFID, mobile computing and even voice direction. As opposed to using just one single technology to perform a task, multi-mode operations allow the technology to collect and verify so the user can confidently focus on handling the items being picked.
Why Multi-Modal is a Preferred Method
The saying “two heads are better than one” seems fitting for this topic; particularly when you relate it to multi-modal operations. When just one technology is used to perform a task, it is likely that some part of the execution of that task will require manual operation. The problem with that is that manual processes tend to fall short in accuracy and verification. Bringing technology into the fold helps to mitigate errors that otherwise may not be discovered until, in some cases, the customer receives their order.
As it relates to picking operations, let’s say the user has a barcode scanning device to capture item data, but finding the correct inventory location, looking up the order quantity and making sure that the correct quantity is being picked are all the responsibility of the picker to verify and ensure accuracy. They might be following a paper-based pick sheet, or maybe they are using a desktop or laptop computer. Even so, they are required to move to the location of the computing device to gather the info they need and then travel back to that device to confirm picking order accuracy once they’ve picked the line items. Relying on user accuracy is not very reliable. As order volumes increase, many organizations find that accuracy decreases and shipping costs increase—primarily due to human error.
That said, multi-modal technology enables companies to capture data with a barcode scanner, but rely on voice commands to assist the user in finding inventory location and confirm quantities they need to pick. This increases picking accuracy and allows the user to travel to each location in a faster, more efficient way. The solution is typically a barcode scanner connected to a voice terminal, or integrated module attached to a headset. Forklift operators enjoy multi-mode operation as well, and often leverage RFID technology to reduce the time the operator spends hopping off and on the forklift.
Process Improvement with Multi-Modal Picking:
- Increase Capacity – Right product to right customer in least amount of time means room to expand capacity
- Reduce Errors – Scan/verify orders and/or vocal check-digit input
- Find Inventory Locations Faster – Limit stockroom congestion and work hands-free
- Streamline Operations — Mobile devices allow users to verify items and instantly update inventory
- Improve Customer Service – When workflow improves, so does customer service and order accuracy
Getting the Most out of Multi-Modal Picking
As you begin to explore the benefits of optimizing your picking operations, here are three important tips to use as a guide in your research and decision making:
- Have a plan. Defining the workload, the number of users, budget, and implementation should be properly planned and documented to execute smoothly and effectively without negatively impacting the organization (i.e., downtime, user training, etc.). Some devices may not be necessary (or affordable), so be sure to match the solution with your requirements.
- Familiarize yourself with the key components. There are several vendors out there offering solutions to optimize picking operations. However, there are only a few that have placed strong focus on delivering solutions built for reliability, durability, and optimal functionality in a warehouse, distribution center, or factory environment. Industry leaders like Zebra Technologies manufacture mobile computing devices, barcode scanning devices, headsets and RFID technology specifically designed for industrial environments.
- Partner with a solution provider that understands and has experience in warehouse operations. IT consultants may not be as well versed in the functionality, options available, and specifications to look for in order to ensure your devices will work reliably in an industrial environment. Choose a provider who is established in warehouse operations and can provide applicable references.