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Thomas R. Cutler


Novel Picking Solution Protects Employees During the Pandemic

Pick-by-vision reduces potential contamination while dramatically increasing productivity

Published: Thursday, August 13, 2020 - 11:02

The old picking methods of paper, pick-to-light, and voice-picking are almost impossible when employees must practice social distancing, use PPE (personal protective equipment), and avoid contact that could potentially exacerbate the spread of Covid-19. One viable solution is pick-by-vision, which both reduces potential contamination and dramatically increases productivity.

Even during the pandemic, the issues of product-picking accuracy and productivity does not magically evaporate. A pick-by-vision system simplifies the workflow and makes it more efficient. Benefits include saving time, reducing the error rate, creating a low-fatigue operation, and strict process control to optimize the picking processes.

Pick-by-vision advantages.  © 2020 Picavi

No more clipboards

A significant number of warehouse logistics operations (distribution centers or manufacturing facilities) still work with paper pick lists—clipboards—even in the digital age. The picking list contains all items that must be assembled for an order, including kitting. With high picking densities, mistakes often occur, and picking with paper lists is very time-consuming and inefficient.

Pick-by-scan with handhelds or terminals presents the pick list information digitally, addressing the issues faced with paper pick lists, but the operator’s hands are still not free for the main activity, which is picking. While pick-to-light or voice picking offer an even more efficient alternative, they still present serious deficiencies (see graphic below comparing picking modalities).

Pick-to-light issues

With pick-to-light, picking is directed through the warehouse or plant floor to the corresponding raw materials or SKUs with the help of light elements. Because the lighting elements must be installed at the designated storage locations, it quickly becomes clear that pick-to-light can be an expensive, inflexible, and unacceptable alternative.

Voice-picking issues

Voice-picking (also as known as pick-by-voice) was the first system in which pickers had both hands free for the first time. The picker is guided through the warehouse by voice. But it soon became clear that employees were tiring from constantly listening to instructions, and performance was stagnating.

At the same time, pick-by-voice works with so-called check digits, where pickers verify via voice input that they are in the proper place and have picked the correct part or SKU. However, after several visits to the locations, employees memorize the check digits, and it is easy to confirm the location before arrival. This means there is no “real” verification taking place, and errors occur with high frequency.

Enter pick-by-vision

Picavi was the first company in the world to develop pick-by-vision—the first order-picking solution using smart glasses. Picavi began with a vision and ended with a market-ready solution for intralogistics. Combining the advantages of pick-to-light and pick-by-voice, it visually guides the picker through the warehouse or manufacturing facility by means of a flexible and adaptable system.

Because the smart glasses show all the information normally provided by a traditional display screen, there is no need for the operator to look at a cart-mounted display, reducing pick-time and fatique. This display “on the go” combines the visual guidance of pick-to-light and the hands-free flexibility of voice picking. This fact plays a major role because users visually absorb and process about 80 percent of the information they use every day.

Working with smart glasses

By working with smart glasses, the visual guidance is easy, flexible, and hands-free. A wearable glove or ring Bluetooth barcode scanner enables uncomplicated and relaxed working. The order picker receives all relevant information in real time in the glasses, and thus has the ability to check storage locations or article numbers at any time. The required scanning verifies that the correct article has been picked. Furthermore, the picker has both hands free. This approach not only saves a lot of time but also reduces the error rate considerably, to almost zero.

The smart-picking solution consists of an ecosystem: the smart glasses and either a Bluetooth finger ring or scanning glove. After the ordered item is picked, which is recorded by the ring or glove scanner, the next order is displayed on the lens of the glasses. The user only needs to look up slightly, meaning his normal field of vision is not compromised. The system is controlled using buttons on the power control, which weighs just 7 ounces and is attached to the employee’s belt.

Pick-by-vision case study

Leading global logistics service provider DB Schenker successfully introduced smart glasses in order-picking operations, with the goal of implementing the smart picking solution as standard procedure across multiple locations. DB Schenker supplies contract logistics solutions for the automotive industry. The use of pick-by-vision led to a measurable and direct increase in efficiency compared to the hand-held scanners previously used. Employees preferred the pick-by-vision ergonomic advantages and ease of use.

“We are continuously searching for ways to improve our operations by efficiency gains,” says Xavier Garijo, board member for contract logistics at DB Schenker. “By introducing smart glasses and smart gloves in our warehouses, we are investing in our future as the supply chain partner of choice for companies around the world.”

Pick-by-vision ensures employees’ safety during the pandemic

Pick-by-vision ensures employees’ safety and avoids employee cross-contamination during the pandemic.

“The benefit of the Picavi system is that each worker has their own set of glasses, at least for the shift, and no one else touches it,” says Carsten Funke, CEO for Picavi USA. “Compared to pick-to-light, which involves many different hands cross-contaminating, the pick-by-vision solution is far safer.”

Strong visual guidance distinguishes pick-by-vision solutions. © 2020 Picavi

The glasses are easy to disinfect, since users can clean them with a 0.5 percent detergent-water solution, such as natural detergent or mild dish-washing soap. Alternatively, glasses may be cleaned using a soft damp cloth and a 70- to 80-percent isopropyl alcohol solution to wipe down all surfaces. With voice-picking solutions, warehouses and distribution centers would have to exchange all the parts, every shift, many of which cannot be wiped down. Glasses need only be touched twice during a shift, creating a contactless, hands-free, and safe work environment.

The rationale for pick-by-vision can be measured by productivity, safety, accuracy, and efficiency. The benefits must be measured against the shortcomings and limitations of alternative solutions.


About The Author

Thomas R. Cutler’s picture

Thomas R. Cutler

Thomas R. Cutler is the President and CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based, TR Cutler Inc., celebrating its 21st year. Cutler is the founder of the Manufacturing Media Consortium including more than 8000 journalists, editors, and economists writing about trends in manufacturing, industry, material handling, and process improvement. Cutler authors more than 1,000 feature articles annually regarding the manufacturing sector. More than 4,500 industry leaders follow Cutler on Twitter daily at @ThomasRCutler. Contact Cutler at trcutler@trcutlerinc.com.