Smartphones and tablets promise anytime, anywhere access to critical data and services. In industrial settings, this functionality has many applications, but the actual reach of mobile devices is somewhat limited, and for good reason. In response, hands-free technologies are emerging as a way to take advantage of what mobile solutions offer without taking on the risks.
Mobility problems in industrial settings
When it comes to mobility in warehouse settings, users can leverage phone cameras to scan barcodes, interact directly with enterprise resource planning applications or work within a warehouse management system from a single endpoint. The same type of capabilities extend into production, letting organizations take on varied inventory management strategies, such as just-in-time asset management or creating small asset caches near production to reduce time spent traveling between the warehouse and the shop floor. While these tactics are promising, there are many barriers to mobile device use in a typical industrial environment. These include:
- Sacrificing ideal safety standards. Industrial environments present a wide range of hazards and employees can't afford to get distracted. Employees using a smartphone or tablet will be looking at their screens, potentially sacrificing their awareness of what is happening around them. There may be safe areas where such practices are acceptable, but depending on smartphones and tablets for day-to-day operations can leave workers distracted.
- Compromising device disposition, as extreme environmental conditions can damage devices. Strong vibrations, high temperatures, sawdust (or similar industrial debris) and comparable conditions can be problematic for consumer-grade smartphones or tablets. Throw in the possibility employees will drop their phones and organizations are left in a situation in which they may frequently need to replace devices. Alternatively, many organizations turn to specialized rugged smartphones and tablets, but high costs can arise.
- Supporting connected devices can create IT overhead that companies must address. In particular, many industrial organizations lack the wireless network infrastructure and backend IT systems needed to support a large-scale mobility strategy.
These issues create significant challenges as organizations work to implement mobile devices. While the IT-related problems reside with just about any connected technology, alternative options are emerging to mitigate the safety and device-related concerns. In particular, voice-directed, hands-free technologies are gaining prominence as a popular alternative to traditional smartphones and tablets.
Hands-free technologies driving safe, reliable mobility
Empowering users to take advantage of connected technologies depends on keeping them safe and ensuring the devices are reliable in the industrial environment. Hands-free technologies are emerging as a prime option here. While augmented reality glasses are an exciting future option, voice-picking headsets are already starting to become mainstream.
Voice-directed warehousing solutions are gaining prominence in a hurry. Persistence Market Research found that the market for voice-directed warehouse platforms will rise at a compound annual growth rate of 12.2 percent from 2018 through 2026. Similar growth is expected for voice-directed warehouse services, with the sector expanding at a 13.8 percent CAGR during the same period.
"Voice picking gives organizations an entry point into safer, hands-free computing."
According to a Multichannel Merchant report, voice picking is becoming popular because it can improve cycle count speeds, eliminate data entry and drive accuracy gains across operations. While voice-based solutions do present the typical challenges associated with modern connected technologies - particularly connectivity and data management issues - voice picking can serve as a critical strategic enabler as organizations work to promote safety and reliability in industrial settings.
Voice picking solutions use simple, natural language commands to process information spoken by users. A person performing a cycle count, for example, need only state the name of the asset and number of goods available, and the system will log that in the warehouse management system or ERP. Workers can use a voice-picking headset to communicate with co-workers, log changes to a project's status or take note of work order changes. Workers can complete these basic interactions while keeping their hands free to carry goods safely and without having to focus on a screen, thus reducing distraction.
As voice picking gains momentum, it gives organizations an entry point into safer, hands-free computing that makes it easier to support mobile device strategies without creating risk. In this case, employees can have a smartphone that integrates with a voice-picking headset, with users interacting with the headset most of the time, but free to use the smartphone when appropriate. Voice picking is ready for everyday use today, with solutions becoming accessible and many integration hurdles already tackled by system manufacturers. Contact ICS Support to learn how we can help you build out and support the infrastructure you need to take full advantage of the technology.