Hands-free picking is utilizing some form of automation so that the operator that is doing the picking doesn’t have a mobile device, or a piece of paper in their hand, or other device to guide them through the picking process. Automation is being used to enable them to pick with both hands. One of the more common hands-free picking methods that is widely touted is voice-directed picking.
Voice-directed picking has some exceptional advantages in certain types of operations, such as full-case picking, full-bag picking, pick the pallet, pick the skid, man-up picking, and man-up fork truck. This prevents the operator, if they had a piece of paper or a mobile device, from having to set that down to retrieve the product from the location, pick it, and then do their verification either manually on paper or on a mobile device.
Hands-Free Picking Solutions
What voice-picking enables operators to do is to basically work while simultaneously confirming their pick, via voice recognition so they can acknowledge to the WMS and WCS system that they are at the right location. They may have to verbalize a code to determine that that location is correct, and they are audibly told how many to pick. Then they speak back to the voice device to confirm what they’ve picked. They are doing all this while they are picking, so that immediately, as soon as they’re done, the voice system tells them where to go next. The picker is in dialogue with the system while they’re picking, both for guided operations and to ensure accuracy, but most importantly, it’s a huge productivity boost.
There are other forms of hands-free picking, not usually case or bag, which is picked by light, vertical carousels, vertical lift modules, horizontal carousels. These are somewhat different as the product is delivered to the operator, which is an automated goods to person (G2P) application. Operators can pick using a light directed operation.
Classic pick by light
Classic pick by light is typically used on pallet flow or carton flow racking. These are good applications for very fast moving items in that environment. The operator is guided through the steps that they need to do to pick and their hands are free to pick while they are doing it. Their only confirmation is either the reach into, or out of location, or pressing a button if there’s an exception.
Hands-free picking integration
There’s a number of ways to integrate hands-free picking with a WMS or ERP system. Oftentimes it’s more common that you find a WMS integrating with voice-pick technology. Generally, it takes a WCS or a WES in place to manage the automation, if it’s voice-picking and/or storage automation. It is not often you see voice directed picking directly integrated to ERPs and also rarely integrated directly to tier one WMS unless there is an intermediary WES or WCS. Those capabilities for all forms of hands-free picking, Intek and Minerva have built directly into our warehouse software, so we do not require another layer of software to support all these forms of hands-free picking.
If you do not have that capability in your WMS or your WMS, doesn’t have WES and WCS capabilities to manage and control and interface to automation equipment, then you require a standalone software package to control the light hardware or the carousels and the light hardware. The result is an isolated island of automation and another integration point, which inherently is less efficient.
Hands-free picking important to businesses today as it is all about accuracy and productivity. By combining a technology for the product mix it helps to ensure accuracy while optimizing productivity and saving labor costs. It drives up operational accuracy, and at the same time, drives down labor costs.