ProLogis, a global provider of distribution facilities and services, released a report hailing voice-recognition (VR) technology, not radio-frequency identification (RFID), as the most important technological breakthrough for distribution centers since the bar code.

VR technology enables two-way communications between computerized warehouse management systems and warehouse workers wearing headsets. Using a computer-generated “voice,” the system automatically provides directions to workers as they select orders, receive shipments, sort goods or load trucks. Voice systems eliminate the need for handheld scanners or paper pick lists, leaving workers' hands free, making it easier to focus on their job.

The report titled, “Voice Recognition Systems - Technology at Work in Today's Warehouse/Distribution Facilities,” finds a number of benefits:

  • Fewer errors

  • Improved productivity

  • Reduced customer returns

  • Higher customer satisfaction

  • Less time required for employee training

  • Higher employee retention

  • More accurate inventory accounting

Most vendors report that the payback from an investment in a VR application will be about 12 to 18 months. The newest VR systems are designed to work in conjunction with scanning, keyboard entry and RFID capabilities.