Voice-driven technologies in industry—What’s the talk all about?

Terri Hiskey of Epicor Software

Last year, the market for voice-recognition technologies was estimated to be worth a staggering $6.19 billion (€5.30 billion), and this is predicted to increase to $18.30 billion (€15.68 billion) by 2023. Amazon’s Echo and Google home devices are two of the most notable examples of how this technology is transforming the way we connect with machines, says Terri Hiskey, vice president, global product marketing for manufacturing, Epicor Software.

In fact, voice search is quickly becoming the primary search mode for consumers, with Comscore UK predicting that by the year 2020, half of all searches will be via voice.

While voice-driven technologies are currently mostly associated with home appliances, they will soon have a major impact on the industrial landscape too. Indeed, a recent study undertaken by Zebra has revealed that 51% of manufacturing companies are planning to expand their use of voice technology in the next five years.

Manufacturers that are already embracing industry 4.0 trends are best positioned to implement voice-driven technologies in the industrial environment. Where businesses like SouthCo are connecting production lines and processes with data, they are witnessing an explosion of connected devices onto their factory floors as a result.

Voice-driven technology may therefore slot neatly into the digital transformation strategies of these companies. The wider industry seems to be considering this—another Zebra Technologies study indicated that 49% of manufacturers ranked voice direction and recognition tech as the highest wearable tech investment areas.

However, voice-driven technologies may still feel like a luxury to other manufacturers looking to innovate. With many industry-transforming technologies, like enterprise resource planning (ERP), being seemingly available, why should those in the sector invest specifically in voice-recognition technologies?

Connection, communication, collaboration

One of the strongest arguments in favour of voice-driven technology is to increase productivity. A poor level of productivity is an issue that continues to hamper the UK manufacturing sector, with recent figures showing a slump in UK output.

Despite analysts predicting an expansion of 0.3%, production dropped—falling to 1.4% in April 2018. In a time of global uncertainty, it is important for businesses to strive for a competitive edge and to make sure operations are as efficient and streamlined as possible. Some look towards technology to help boost performance.

report from all Business has indicated that voice-driven technologies have achieved, in some instances, a rise in warehouse productivity of up to 25%, providing a new piece in a larger digital transformation jigsaw for manufacturers.

By seamlessly connecting to other devices across the entire factory floor, the ability to vocally issue key instructions, with optimum speed, will stand to speed up internal processes, and improve overall productivity. Far more than just affording factory workers the use of both hands, voice-driven tech can enable instant communication between employees on the factory floor, and enhance efficiency in doing so.

Manufacturers who turn to technologies that drive productivity, accuracy and overall performance can unlock potential for business growth by making their business as fit as it can be for what the future holds.

Improved accuracy and compliance

Increasing accuracy is another reason some manufactures are considering voice-driven technologies in their factories. In a sector where the slightest error can lead to allergy outbreaks or even worse, manufacturers need to be precise and their products need to be fully traceable.

When coupled with the right enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, voice-driven technologies can lead to heightened accuracy levels within warehousescompared to checking against paper lists and dense spreadsheets. This new way of processing data can free up precious staff time, allowing them to concentrate on higher value activities.

Honeywell’s Vocollect is a prime example of how improved strides in accuracy are being achieved through voice-recognition software. Used by nearly one million distribution centre workers, the voice-enabled software has reduced errors by 25% when deployed, amongst other notable benefits.

Real-time data driven insights

When linked with an extensive ERP system that oversees all operations on a factory floor, voice-driven technologies can improve decision-making. When commands are issued, a smart ERP system can help sync them with a manufacturer’s internal systems, and collect invaluable insights over how these are being actioned, across the entire factory floor.

Delivering this data from the floor in real-time can offer benefits to decision-makers in identifying in more detail where operation inefficiencies lie, so that manufacturers can focus their attention on closing these gaps, thus increasing output.

Inclusive usability

 One final standout feature that voice-recognition software offers manufacturers is simplicity. Whilst some manufacturing systems can be prohibitively confusing for employees to use, speech-recognition solutions are relatively straightforward to grasp, and do not require extensive training.

In fact, when Honeywell rolled out Vocollect voice systems across numerous sites, they reported a reduction in training time of up to 50%. With a huge skills gap still hampering the manufacturing sector, the importance of having easy-to-use technology in place for new recruits and existing staff alike should not be taken lightly.

It can also help manufacturing businesses across the globe continue their growth trajectory. Ultimately, as manufacturers now set to embark on the road towards digital transformation, choosing the next ‘must-have’ technology is always going to be a difficult decision.

Whilst having virtual assistants like Alexa present through British factories may currently seem like a luxury rather than a necessity, the companies implementing voice-driven technologies now will be the ones to benefit from increased productivity, reduced inaccuracies, greater insights, and the assurance that their factories are fit for the future.

If one thing is clear, it’s that marrying voice-driven innovations with modern ERP solutions will be key to manufacturers reaping the benefits offered by this digital transformation trend. Ultimately, when connected devices can communicate with each other, and share data, users stand an increased chance to benefit from them. This is the next step in digital transformation, and will help businesses remain competitive and realise their growth ambitions.

The author of this blog is Terri Hiskey, vice president, global product marketing for manufacturing, Epicor Software

Comment on this article below or via Twitter: @IoTNow_OR @jcIoTnow

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