The Vocollect voice picking system, supplied and integrated by Dematic has delivered productivity and accuracy improvements, enhanced workplace safety and helped reduce distribution costs.
Each of the three regional Foodstuffs co-operatives provides supply chain and order fulfilment services to the co-op’s owner-operated stores in their area. Nationally, the group supports a network of more than 630 outlets including New World Supermarkets, Pak’n Save Food Warehouses, WritePrice Food Barns, Four Square convenience stores and several cash and carry operations servicing the needs of dairies, service stations, catering and institutional customers.
Better than expected productivity gains
"We are constantly searching for ways to improve the efficiency of our supply chain. Voice directed computing’s benefits for order picking, and its ability to be integrated fairly quickly, made a strong business case," said Egon Guttke, Foodstuffs Wellington Group Manager, Information Systems & Services.
A key objective in implementing Voice was enhancing productivity. There was a widespread labour shortage at the time. Finding and keeping people was a challenge.
"The increase in productivity that we could achieve by switching to voice from RF was very important for us to improve throughput capacity," said Mr Guttke.
"We are happy to say that the productivity improvement has actually exceeded Dematic’s projections. Accuracy also increased, as has workplace safety."
Accents no problem
"We have an ethnic mix in our warehouse, but this is no problem for the Voice system," explained Mr Guttke.
"Each user records their own voice template, so the system recognises anyone’s accent or way of talking."
"Training new users on voice is also easier and quicker than it takes to get someone up to speed with an RF terminal," he said.
To ensure a smooth rollout of the technology, Foodstuffs involved key warehouse personnel in the development of training plans. After Voice was integrated and fully operational at Foodstuffs Silverstream distribution center (DC), the DC was used as a training facility with staff from other Wellington DCs being given the opportunity to train and pick in a ‘live’ environment.
Learn more about Voice Directed Computing
"From day one, we had a very positive reaction from the warehouse management and picking staff," said Mr Guttke.
With voice being a more intuitive and ergonomically comfortable way of picking, job satisfaction and workplace safety at Foodstuffs voice-enabled DCs have improved.
"Whether it is our use of voice, the financial crisis, or a combination of both, we are also enjoying higher staff retention since its introduction."
A sound return on investment
"It was reassuring that Dematic had already implemented Voice for many of the major Australian grocery distributors and retailers," said Foodstuffs Project Manager, David Bain.
"Their experience and advice helped ensure the successful integration of voice picking at our three DC locations in Wellington.
"Voice really outperforms RF in high volume order picking applications, and the impressive improvements have been achieved at a realistic cost, making the project a sound investment.
"Because Foodstuffs already had WLANs in place for RF operations at all of the DCs, adding voice to the networks didn’t require much effort or expense," he said.
Voice directed computing has also reduced Foodstuffs ongoing repair costs associated with RF terminals and scanners. Because these are mostly hand held, rather than worn on the body like voice computers, RF terminals and scanners inevitably get bumped and dropped during use. Repair costs are high and there is the lost productivity, inconvenience, and lost time involved in the repair process.