September 6, 2023
September 6, 2023

Voice Picking and Its Development Over the Years

This article delves into the world of voice picking, highlighting its past prominence, the reasons for its decline, and why it's still useful.


In the ever-evolving landscape of technology, various tools and techniques have made their mark on the warehousing and logistics industry. One such technology is voice picking. Historically, voice picking emerged as an initial supportive technology, primarily aiding bulk picking, particularly for grocery companies. Today, it is slightly different, as other emerging technologies have taken over the usage of voice picking.

This article delves into the world of voice picking, highlighting its past prominence, the reasons for its decline, and the contexts in which it still remains relevant. While it once held a pivotal role in warehousing, the rise of case picking technologies has seen voice picking gradually phased out. Today, it's primarily retained in scenarios where low wage costs make it a competitive alternative to newer case picking technologies. Contrary to being innovative, voice picking serves as a testament to the sector's ongoing evolution.

How Voice Picking Works in Bulk Operations

Voice picking, sometimes referred to as pick by voice or voice-directed warehousing, is a technique predominantly found in industries that require bulk picking, such as the grocery and furniture sectors. This technology was developed to enhance both the efficiency and accuracy of the bulk picking process. Simply put, it is a paperless, hands-free, and eyes-free system, relying on voice commands to guide warehouse workers throughout their assignments.

Example of Voice Picking in Action

To grasp the essence of voice picking, consider this scenario: In a warehouse specialized in bulk picking for groceries or furniture, workers are equipped with headsets that relay voice instructions. An instruction might sound like, "Pick 20 units of product X from aisle 5." Once the task is completed, the worker verbally acknowledges it. The system, in real-time, updates itself and provides the next set of instructions, thereby optimizing the picking process.

Smart, isn't it? Let's now explore the specific advantages, and disadvantages, offered by this method in the context of bulk picking.

Pros and Cons of Voice Picking in Bulk Operations

While voice picking once reigned supreme, particularly in bulk operations for grocery entities, its position in today's warehousing ecosystem is not without contention. In this section, we'll shed light on both the advantages that once made it a standout choice and the inherent challenges that contribute to its declining prominence in the face of emerging technologies.

1. Accuracy with Potential Challenges

Voice picking promises increased accuracy by offering clear spoken directives and seeking verbal confirmations, reducing manual entry errors and misinterpretations. The instant feedback loop provides an opportunity for immediate corrections, enhancing the chances of customers receiving the right products. However, there's a caveat. The technology's recognition capabilities can sometimes fall short, particularly with a diverse workforce or non-native speakers. This inconsistency can lead to recognition errors, reducing the efficiency gains promised by voice picking.

2. Efficiency Considerations in Voice Picking

By eliminating the need for paper lists or handheld devices, voice-guided picking aims to allow workers to move swiftly, solely following audio instructions. Theoretically, this can streamline workflows, saving time on each pick. However, due to occasional recognition challenges, especially with non-native speakers, this efficiency can sometimes be compromised. When the system works seamlessly, it undoubtedly offers an operational advantage, but potential hiccups can't be ignored.

3. Safety and Ergonomics with a Modern Twist

Voice picking indeed offers a hands-free operation, enabling workers to remain more aware of their environment and handle goods with both hands, minimizing accidents. This approach not only reduces risks involving the workers but also minimizes potential damage to warehouse products and equipment. The ergonomic benefits, including reduced strain from not having to handle paper lists, also contribute to worker well-being. An exciting integration is the connection between voice picking and forklift guiding systems, optimizing picking routes and further ensuring safety.

4. Adaptable yet Requires Consideration

Voice picking solutions offer customization to align with specific warehouse needs and can be scaled up as businesses expand. While the systems can adapt to different requirements, it's crucial to consider the potential challenges they might pose, especially regarding voice recognition among diverse workforces. Despite these challenges, for those who can harness its potential, voice picking can be a valuable long-term investment.

5. Language and Dialect Issues

Diverse accents and dialects may cause misunderstandings, although many modern systems are designed to adapt to various accents and languages. However, the initial setup may require calibration and fine-tuning to understand specific accents or local dialects properly. In multi-lingual environments, ensuring that the system caters to all languages spoken by the workforce can be a complex task.

6. Technology Dependence

A complete reliance on technology means that system failures, whether due to software bugs, hardware malfunctions, or network issues, can lead to significant disruptions. This reliance requires robust contingency planning and might necessitate redundant systems to ensure that any failure doesn't completely halt operations. Continuous monitoring and timely support are essential to mitigate this risk.

7. Cost Savings and ROI: A Historical Perspective

Voice picking was initially introduced with the promise of cost savings and a favorable return on investment (ROI). The primary advantages included reduced errors, decreased costs related to returns, and increased overall productivity, potentially leading to lowered labor costs. Moreover, the safety benefits of voice picking were expected to minimize workers' compensation claims. However, in practical terms, the rise of case picking technology, especially in Europe, has significantly reduced the adoption of voice picking.

In conclusion, while voice picking offered several benefits during its peak usage, the warehousing industry has since evolved, with technologies like case picking gaining prominence. This shift highlights the importance of continually assessing and adopting new operational methodologies in the warehousing sector.

The Steps and Functions of Voice Picking

Below is a detailed overview of how the voice picking system operates.

1. Integration with Warehouse Management Systems (WMS)

Voice picking is intrinsically tied to a warehouse's WMS. The effectiveness of voice picking hinges on this integration. It derives vital data about inventory, orders, and the warehouse's layout directly from the WMS, highlighting the interconnectedness of the two systems.

2. Translating Data into Voice Commands

With successful integration, the WMS tasks transform into voice commands. Wearable devices, primarily headsets, relay these commands, offering workers precise picking instructions.

3. Direct Interaction with Workers

On receiving voice directives, workers navigate to the mentioned locations and retrieve the items. Their interaction isn't one-sided; they can verbally confirm actions, request clarifications, or even repeat commands. This dynamic exchange relies heavily on sophisticated voice recognition technology.

4. Immediate Feedback Loop

Every verbal acknowledgement from the worker undergoes instant processing. This real-time feedback system is crucial for swift error identification and correction. Simultaneously, the WMS receives updates, ensuring inventory and order statuses remain accurate.

5. Streamlining Workflows

At its core, voice picking aims to enhance operational efficiency. By providing unambiguous voice directions, the technology seeks to minimize unnecessary movement, optimizing worker paths and, by extension, productivity.

6. Emphasis on Safety

Voice picking's hands-free operation was a deliberate move to bolster safety. By eliminating the need for written lists or handheld tools, workers can wholly focus on their tasks. This concentrated attention was expected to boost safety metrics and reduce potential mishaps.

7. Adaptable to Varied Needs

Voice picking systems stand out for their customization capabilities. They are designed to accommodate a plethora of languages, dialects, and operational specifics. This adaptability ensures they remain relevant across diverse warehouse settings and can evolve in tandem with business growth.

8. Worker Onboarding

Introducing this technology to workers is relatively seamless, attributed to the universal nature of voice communication. Nevertheless, ongoing training and support ensure that workers remain comfortable and proficient with the system.

Integration with Other Technologies and Systems

Though outdated, voice picking demonstrates its capability to integrate with a spectrum of technologies, such as RFID (Radio Frequency Identification), ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems, and notably, forklift guidance systems:

RFID Integration

Coupling voice picking with RFID technology allows workers to follow voice commands to locate products, after which RFID can be employed for efficient scanning. This dual-method aims to fortify tracking, ensuring consistent accuracy in product selection.

ERP Integration

Voice picking, when interconnected with ERP systems, facilitates centralized management of vital data like inventory counts, order specifics, and dispatch details. Such integration aims for real-time data synchronization, fostering enhanced planning and heightened precision in warehouse management.

Forklift Guidance System Integration

A significant advancement is the integration of voice picking with forklift guidance systems. By doing this, the objective is to optimize picking routes, directing workers efficiently throughout the warehouse, and minimizing time spent traversing between locations.

Versatility with Multiple Systems

One of the distinguishing characteristics of voice picking is its flexibility in integration. It can dovetail with a plethora of existing technologies, precluding the need for a comprehensive system revamp. This trait is designed to reduce potential disruptions during its adoption, allowing enterprises to maximize returns on pre-existing technological assets.

In summary, voice picking's ability to meld with various technologies showcases its potential in orchestrating efficient warehouse operations. However, as with many technologies, its prominence is subject to the ebbs and flows of industry advancements.


Voice picking, once considered a groundbreaking advancement, is increasingly finding its niche. As highlighted throughout the guide, while there are definite benefits, its broader applications appear limited in the wake of modern advancements and rising labor costs. Specifically, voice picking presents as a potentially powerful tool to aid visually impaired workers and in certain automated workstations. However, for it to be truly effective in these scenarios, the right setup is paramount. Contrary to earlier expectations, it may not usher in a widespread revolution across all sectors of warehousing. Decision-makers must thoroughly assess the relevance and sustainability of voice picking within their specific operational environments, keeping in mind its evolving context in the industry.



What is an example of voice picking?

An example of voice picking is a warehouse worker using a headset that communicates with the Warehouse Management System (WMS). The system gives verbal instructions to the worker about what items to pick and where to find them, and the worker confirms the actions through voice commands.

How Does Voice Picking Work?

Voice picking works by using speech recognition technology to communicate tasks to warehouse workers. It translates picking orders into voice instructions, guiding workers to the correct locations and items, and allows them to confirm actions verbally, interfacing directly with the warehouse management system.

How accurate is voice picking?

While voice picking aims to improve accuracy rates in the picking process through precise voice instructions and real-time updates, it's essential to note that it still involves manual pick operations. This means there is inherent room for human error. Additionally, the system's reliance on voice recognition and confirmation can introduce potential points of failure, affecting its overall accuracy.

How does voice picking work in a warehouse?

In a warehouse, voice picking integrates with the Warehouse Management System (WMS) to provide real-time voice instructions to workers. These instructions guide them to the correct locations and provide details on what items to pick. Workers respond verbally, and the system updates the inventory and order information accordingly. It can be used in conjunction with other technologies and offers hands-free operation, improving efficiency and safety.

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