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Voice solutions in the cold chain

Darren O’Connor, Director of Solution Delivery at Körber Supply Chain APAC. Image: Körber.

Darren O’Connor of Körber sheds light on how voice technology is a boon to operations in challenging cold chain environments.

The world of warehousing, particularly within the cold chain sector, is witnessing a significant transformation, driven by the adoption of advanced technologies. 

Darren O’Connor, a prominent figure at Körber with extensive experience in solution delivery, shares valuable insights into how voice technology is addressing the unique challenges faced in cold storage environments. 

The cold chain, a crucial segment of the global supply chain, is known for its harsh conditions, posing substantial challenges for both workers and technology.

“Working in a freezer environment can lend itself to a high turnover as people find they can’t cope in the cold – especially when working with unsuitable equipment,” Darren explains. 

This high turnover is a critical concern for businesses, given the essential role cold storage plays in preserving the quality and safety of perishable goods. As Darren points out, “Your team are your most valuable and productive assets, and they must be looked after.”

One of the biggest challenges in cold storage warehouses is the need to maintain high levels of productivity and accuracy, despite the harsh conditions. Traditional methods, such as wrist-mounted scanners and screens, often falter in such environments. 

“Condensation on the screens will freeze and thaw, making manual input impossible, and hands will have to be exposed as gloves are too bulky for accurate input,” Darren says, highlighting the inefficiency and safety risks involved.

Enter voice-directed work (VDW). This innovative approach is designed to keep employees’ hands and eyes free, allowing them to focus on their tasks without the need for manual inputs on screens or paper. 

“Voice technology was created to maximise operational efficiency in the warehouse by allowing team members to work both hands-free and eyes-free,” Darren states, emphasising the technology’s impact on operational efficiency. 

The wireless headsets used in VDW are specially designed for the freezer environment, capable of withstanding temperatures down to −30°C and resisting condensation.

Darren notes, “The batteries will easily last a full eight-hour shift too, even in extreme temperatures.” This feature is crucial in maintaining uninterrupted workflow and enhancing productivity.

Discussing the hardware’s durability, Darren mentions, “Both the headsets and their terminals are tightly sealed against condensation, and can also come with protection built-in for workers’ ears.” 

This level of technical robustness is essential for equipment operating in such challenging conditions. Moreover, these headsets are not just robust but are also designed to ensure clarity of communication. 

“They are even noise-cancelling, so the instructions can be heard over freezer fans, even through hats or balaclavas,” Darren adds, addressing the issue of the noisy environment in cold storage facilities.

Voice-directed work is a boon for safety, freeing hands and eyes. Image: Körber.
Voice-directed work is a boon for safety, freeing hands and eyes. Image: Körber.

In terms of improving productivity and accuracy, the impact of VDW is significant. Darren observes, “Using the headsets instead of a wrist-mounted scanner, or paper, allows gloves to stay on at all times, and directions on screens or paper don’t need to be read and interpreted through a layer of frost.” 

This improvement directly translates into more productive and accurate picks, essential in a fast-paced warehouse setting.

The benefits of VDW extend beyond just operational efficiency; they also positively impact employee satisfaction. High turnover rates in the cold chain are often due to the harsh working conditions. 

However, as Darren notes, “One of the best things about voice is how much the team members benefit from using it.” The ability to work comfortably, even in sub-zero temperatures, has been described as a “game-changer” by staff.

Darren delves into the specifics of implementing voice technology in Australia, a region that presents unique challenges and opportunities. 

“Adoption in Australia is at a higher rate, and by and large, we were earlier to adopt,” he explains. This early adoption has led to a more profound understanding and integration of voice technology in the Australian cold chain logistics sector.

Safety is another critical aspect where VDW makes a significant difference. “The benefit in cold comes in the ability to keep your hands free, which encourages proper lifting techniques and unrestricted movement,” Darren points out. 

This focus on safety is crucial in environments where workers are already facing physical challenges due to the cold.

Looking ahead, Darren highlights the ongoing evolution of voice technology in the warehousing sector. 

“The next thing is collaborative voice. So putting a robot assistant in and then using voice to direct that,” he says, pointing towards the future of voice technology, which involves more integrated and collaborative systems. This evolution indicates a move towards increasingly sophisticated, efficient, and safe warehousing environments.

In summarising the state of voice technology in the cold chain, Darren concludes, “It’s interesting that we are still seeing a lot of organisations hesitant to take it up even though there are proven benefits. It’s not a difficult product to implement.” 

This hesitation may stem from a lack of awareness or misconceptions about the technology’s capabilities and benefits. 

However, as Darren and Körber’s success stories demonstrate, voice technology in the cold chain is a game-changer, offering enhanced productivity, safety, and employee satisfaction. 

As this technology continues to evolve and integrate with other advanced solutions, it stands to redefine the landscape of warehouse operations, especially in challenging environments like the cold chain.

For more information on Körber, click here.

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