Voice Picking reduces errors, increases shipping volume

  • June 20, 2011
  • Case Study
June 2011
By Thomas R. Cutler
Perkins Paper is New England's largest independent wholesale distributor of foodservice and sanitary maintenance supplies. The company was founded in 1915 and has grown through a number of acquisitions, as well as internal product category expansion.
At Perkins Paper, the number one priority is shipping the right product, on time, every time. This commitment to service spurred managers at the broadline food-service distributor to implement voice automation technology to improve order selection and delivery accuracy.
“Like other companies, we’re always trying to improve service to our customers,” noted Walter Harrigan, Senior Vice President. “So our main goal for voice automation was to reduce shorts and wrongs, which improves customer service and also reduces our costs. If you don’t send the right item to a customer, you have to taxi it out to them, and that costs a lot, probably $50-$60 per error. “
Perkins installed the Jennifer VoicePlus picking, QC/Audit, and loading system from Lucas Systems to meet the objective of error-free automation processes. The natural voice of this automation solution had appeal according to Harrigan who also required the flexibility to adapt to unique aspects of the operations. In addition to traditional automated case picking to pallet, Perkins had unique requirements for small-item picking, and for picking slower-moving items in very narrow aisles (VNA).
To run the voice applications, Perkins selected the Motorola WT4090 mobile computer because they really liked the smaller, lighter footprint of the device.  The Motorola WT4090 is a general purpose mobile computer that can be used for non-voice applications in addition to voice. Many earlier generations of voice automation systems for the warehouse required special-purpose voice appliances that were expensive and offered limited functionality.
Multiple Warehouse Areas and Unique Process Needs Drive Automation
Like other foodservice distributors, selectors at Perkins apply a delivery label to every case as they pick it from racks and place it on their pallets in freezer, cooler, and dry areas of the warehouse. Harrigan explained, “We stayed with labels when we moved to voice, because you need the stickers for delivery and check in. Some of our routes have fifteen stops on a truck and we average forty-four pieces per order. So the labels are important to help our truckers find the right pieces at each stop on the route.”
While moving to the automated voice-picking solution Jennifer, Perkins also began using double pallet jacks rather than single jacks, to allow selectors to pick more orders each pass through the warehouse. The result from this automation was a significant productivity gain moving to double pallets, in addition to the 4-5% gains in productivity that were specific to the voice system.
In addition to traditional case picking to pallet – including case picking in low-velocity very narrow aisle (VNA) areas – the voice automation solution also supported piece picking to totes, and a process for consolidating or merging small item totes, VNA picks, bulk items and other pre-picked items into pallets at the dock or staging areas. The voice-directed consolidation process helped ensure that the correct items were on the correct pallets prior to loading.
Downstream from picking, Perkins uses the Jennifer QC/Audit system to double-check the accuracy of picking. The QC/Audit system utilizes an automated touch screen tablet PC. It allows checkers to compare pallet contents to the actual voice-pick results, and to fill shorts and correct any errors prior to releasing the route for loading.
This automated auditing process directs loading of trucks to ensure all pallets destined for a given route are loaded, and then generates a load map of the contents of the truck. Harrigan explained, “The truck loading application helps give our drivers information about where they will find the items for a particular stop. And it’s a good check that the right items are on the truck.”
50 Percent Fewer Errors With Higher Shipping Volumes
Since implementing Jennifer, Perkins reduced shipping errors every year while increasing shipping volumes. The company eliminated thirty-six percent of its shorts and wrongs compared the previous year, and for the first four months of this year it experience a further eighteen percent reduction, even though they shipped 350,000 more cases this year compared to last year.
In addition to productivity gains in picking, the automated voice picking system has reduced clerical time as selectors now voice-enter catch weights (the actual weight of cases that are shipped to customers) and assignment information that was previously hand-written and entered into computer systems by clerical staff.
Author Profile:
Thomas R. Cutler is the President & CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based, TR Cutler, Inc, (www.trcutlerinc.com). Cutler is the founder of the Manufacturing Media Consortium of nearly four thousand journalists and editors writing about trends in manufacturing. Cutler is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists, Online News Association, American Society of Business Publication Editors, Committee of Concerned Journalists, as well as author of more than 500 feature articles annually regarding the manufacturing sector. Cutler can be contacted at trcutler@trcutlerinc.com or 888-902-0300.

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