Covid19 is about to bring Voice Picking technologies to a sudden stop in Distribution Centers around the world. Or it ought to.

Every sanitary authority in the globe advises that prevention is the best way to avoid the disease. Prevention in the warehouse translates into multiple sanitary measures, of which wearing a face mask is perhaps the most fundamental. Face masks are useless when they get wet, and they get wet after an hour of incessant speaking. So, in order to keep voice picking workers safe, face masks should be replaced every hour; microphone cushions should be replaced at least every day. All the sudden, picking by voice becomes a source of sanitary waste that requires proper disposal. It also multiplies the expense in replacement parts. More importantly, it degrades the already-weak warehouse workers’ protection gear to hazardous levels. Is this really necessary?

[…] a face mask, by design, does not filter or block very small particles in the air that may be transmitted by coughs and sneezes. Surgical masks also do not provide complete protection from germs and other contaminants because of the loose fit between the surface of the mask and your face. keywords: face masks respirators.

In times of covid19, Voice Picking poses a sanitary hazard to warehouse workers. Other picking methods must be devised that achieve the same -if not higher- levels of worker productivity, without compromising the effectiveness of their day-to-day protection gear.

The whole idea behind voice picking is to allow warehouse workers to handle materials with both hands. That’s all. Eliminating errors and other punch lines are only marketing fillers. No one will ever convince me that capturing data by voice is more accurate or any faster than scanning a two dimensional barcode. That is simply not true. But handling materials with both hands is definitely an advantage that warehouse managers should not have to give up.

The answer is to adopt wearable computers.

Zebra WT6000 with Bluetooth bi-dimensional imager

Wearable computers provide the same level of efficiency than voice picking solutions at only a fraction of the cost. These arm-mounted computers set the workers’ both hands free while providing detailed instructions at the glance of the eye, and fast data capture at the tip of their thumbs.

The reason why wearable computers are not more widely used in warehouses around the world is because of the lack of screen reformatting features in primitive telnet clients. WMS mobile interfaces are designed for vertical-oriented screens whereas the wearable computer’s display is horizontal-oriented. The bottom rows of the typical WMS interface become invisible in a wearable computer display. Because primitive telnet clients cannot perform simple screen reformatting, they split the vertical screen in two, forcing the user to press arrow keys to switch between the two halves. Others reduce the size of the font to fit all rows into the smaller display. Either method is unacceptable because they slow down the worker, either by adding unnecessary keystrokes, or making the text difficult to read.

A smart telnet client, on the other hand, is capable of reformatting the screen by removing unused space, allowing the worker to continue to read the information in the display rather than listening to it. Ironically, the worker will perform their task faster this way. Reading gets information faster to our brains than listening to it. Just make this little experiment: what time is it on the wt6000 computer above? Would it be faster to tell if someone spoke the time to you out loud? Of course not. StayLinked’s smart telnet client is used in the example below to reformat a picking screen. We removed unused rows, removed idle space, and enlarged the location information for faster reading.

Adopting smart telnet clients in the warehouse devices should be the priority number one for any operations manager, regardless of the devices’ manufacturer, model, or operating system. Wearable computers, in particular, should see a surge in uses in times of covid19.

Wearable computers can achieve higher levels of productivity than voice