More Leaders in Food Retail Turn to Voice Recognition Software

June 4, 2009

Albert Heijn, the #1 food retailer in the Netherlands, has implemented voice-picking software in all six of its Dutch distribution centers. The project was a $2.6 million investment, but the up-front cost was worth it to the company. In January 2008, when the system was launched, Albert Heijn expected to see a return on investment within eight weeks through an 8% increase in productivity.

In the course of the three-month launch process, more than 5,000 users across Albert Heijn’s six DCs were trained and enabled for voice-picking. To date, that is the largest voice recognition software rollout in the Netherlands and one of the largest in the world. The voice-picking software was set up to function in Dutch and Polish dialogues, making the transition virtually seamless even for those workers who were not native to the Netherlands.

Albert Heijn is only one example of leading food retailers that have recognized the value of voice-picking. Dunkin-Donuts, the world’s largest coffee and baked goods chain, has also seen a positive drastic change in productivity and accuracy after implementing voice technology. The company’s productivity has increased by 12.5%, while accuracy has skyrocketed to 99.94%. Meanwhile, clerical errors have been reduced by 33%, and product damage has been reduced by 80%. The company also saves an annual $240,000 by having redeployed eight order-checking workers.


Can Technology Save the Economy?

April 29, 2009

If you are still using manual systems for asset tracking, inventory control, or picking, mistakes are piling up and profits are disappearing.

Attend our FREE Seminar to learn how to reduce errors, wasted man hours, and lost inventory.

This seminar will show how RFID, Voice, and Barcode technologies:

  • Save 25-40% in wasted labor costs.
  • Increase accuracy to 99.9%.
  • Reduce returns from errors by 50%.
  • Decrease mispicks by 25% or more.
  • Boost productivity by 15% or more

Seminar highlights include:

  • TECH UPDATE: Learn about the advancements, differences, and benefits of these technologies
  • ACCESS TO LEADING INDUSTRY EXPERTS: Tom O’Boyle, a leading expert with over 23 years of experience in technology deployment and speaker at national conferences like WERC and APICS, will discuss RFID in work in process.
  • CASE STUDIES: How a Truck Manufacturing Facility lowered their lead times by 14%, increased their inventory velocity by 19%, and reduced their labor reporting errors by 23%!

Date: Wednesday, June 10th

Time: 10 am to Noon

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1425 Jeffrey Drive
Addison, IL 60101

Contact: 1-800-783-2132

Interested in attending this FREE Seminar?

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Coca-Cola Dials in to New Voice Technology Solution

March 26, 2009

Several months ago, Bob Trebilcock wrote a blog post on Modern Materials Handling discussing a new voice technology solution produced by Datria. Founded in 1997 as a spin-off from Lockheed Martin, Datria originally developed voice technology solutions for defense applications-most notably for soldiers in the field. Now, Datria is commercializing the technology and applying it to mobile warehouse/distribution center workers. Soft drink giant Coca-Cola Enterprises was understandably intrigued.

Here’s how it works: Most of the time, warehouse pickers employing voice technology wear a headset, as well as a voice-enabled portable computer attached to the belt. Then, as Trebilcock explains, “The middleware software solution on the computing device communicates with a Warehouse Management System (WMS) or an ERP solution to get order information or update the system after tasks have been completed and inventory has been picked.”

But Datria loads the software onto a server in the network-which means that the voice solution has an IP address that workers can access by simply dialing in. They can use a portable computer such as a traditional voice system, a PDA, a voice-over IP phone, or even a cell phone.

Coca-Cola Enterprises has 5,000 mobile order pickers, and has launched Datria’s technology to their hundred largest warehouses in North America. As of October 2008, about 2,100 Coca-Cola pickers used voice technology by simply dialing in from wireless phones.

How would voice technology like Datria’s affect your warehouse/distribution center? Does a dial-in system appeal to you?

Top Symbol Group ADM Londis Saves Approximately $375k in First Year of Voice-Picking

March 26, 2009

In the final phase of Irish symbol group ADM Londis’s two-year, $2.5 million warehouse modernization investment, the company incorporated voice-picking technology to its repertoire of advancements. The voice-picking technology replaced the company’s manual, paper-based picking system to astonishing results, in a short amount of time.

Firstly, implementation of the new system took only one month, with warehouse employees quickly learning and embracing the technology. Not surprisingly, picking accuracy has improved dramatically since then, with fewer mispicks and improved sequence of picking. But the bottom line, of course, returns to customers: ADM Londis has seen 50% fewer claims, as well as a 10% reduction in delivery breakage to Londis retailers.

As the Retail Technology Review article notes, voice-picking also gives pick confirmations in real time, thus cutting down on potential delays and ensuring that customers receive their exact orders. In addition, thanks to on-time system reporting and on-screen key performance indicators, warehouse management can ensure that workers’ attention and efforts are focused on crucial tasks.

In the first year of implementing the voice-picking technology, ADM Londis saved $300,000 Euros, or approximately $375,000 USD-a 15% return on its total warehouse improvement investment. Some of those savings, according to the article, were on stock damages and losses, further attesting to voice-picking technology’s ability to reduce merchandise shrinkage.

With voice technology, miscommunication could be history

March 19, 2009

Effective communication between employers, managers, and employees is one of the most crucial requirements for a company’s success. Even in typical office settings, miscommunication occurs daily. But in warehouses and distribution centers (DC), where the ratio of managers to workers is much lower and manual labor occurs at a rapid pace, errors based on miscommunication can be far-reaching.

Fortunately, voice technology could be the solution—at least for reducing picking errors. In his book Facing the Forces of Change, Adam J. Fein, Ph.D. and president of Pembroke Consulting Inc., predicts that more warehouses and DCs will soon be reaping the benefits of wireless technologies—such as voice—that transmit data from warehouse floor to business system.

As warehouses and DCs consistently find an increase in productivity by up to 25% and accuracy up to 99.9% with voice-picking, Fein’s projection seems on target.

If you haven’t yet incorporated voice technology into your warehouse management system, you can still reduce miscommunication errors the old-fashioned way, as points out:

  • Watch your language. Keep metaphors to a minimum, and speak to your employees clearly and positively.
  • Give feedback—positive and negative. And be specific. Explain why you feel the way you do or have interpreted the situation the way you have.
  • Connect personally with employees. Incorporate sincere face-to-face meetings as well as relaying information through managers, or via phone, e-mail, etc.

In what ways do you work to keep miscommunication errors to a minimum?

Reduce employee training time with voice-picking technology

March 17, 2009

If the thought of reducing employee training time from weeks to minutes appeals to you, here’s another reason to consider implementing voice-picking technology. We’ve discussed on this blog how voice-picking poses a strong alternative to paper-based picking processes, and one of the reasons is that voice-picking is highly intuitive, requiring virtually no training time.

With voice-picking, the Warehouse Management System (WMS) generates assignments for merchandise selection, replacement, and inventory, and transmits those assignments through a wireless network. Workers then receive verbal commands via a wearable or mounted computer, and confirm their movements back into their speech recognition headsets—effectively freeing their hands and eyes for increased productivity.

The explanation for voice-picking may sound more complicated than employees find it is to actually learn. Indeed, training can be accomplished within 15 minutes, during which time the voice technology will learn individual workers’ unique accents and speech patterns. Workers can even “teach” the system to recognize responses in a foreign language. The only hiccup in training is that workers occasionally speak differently than they would in a warehouse environment, which later affects the system’s recognition of their responses. However, retraining, if necessary, also only takes a few minutes.

The bottom line: Instead of training your employees for days or weeks to learn a paper-based picking system—and paying for their time—voice-picking can save you money almost immediately.

What is your current picking method, and how long does it take for you to train your workers to use it?

Is RFID right for you?

March 12, 2009

By now, you know what radio frequency identification (RFID) technology is and some of the ways that it can be used in warehouses and distribution centers. But before investing in RFID, you should be sure that the technology will meet your warehouse/DC’s unique needs. You might consider asking yourself the following questions, as suggested in a white paper published in 2003 by LXE Inc.:

  • Is processing speed essential for our warehouse/DC, or could processing speed provide a competitive advantage?
  • Do we deal in high-value assets that need to be protected?
  • Can bar codes physically survive our processes?
  • Do certain areas of our facilities need to be protected from unauthorized access?
  • Do we need more unique information on each item than a bar code can contain?
  • Are we highly automated and needing to minimize human intervention?
  • Could we could benefit by knowing where products are at all times in the supply chain, in real time?

Did you answer yes to any of these questions? If so, RFID may be able to increase your warehouse/DC’s efficiencies in myriad ways-especially if your partners or customers are already RFID compliant. However, if you own or run a smaller warehouse/DC with simpler operations and limited plans for expansion, perhaps you would be better served with bar codes. Whether RFID is the right fit or barcoding and voice picking is the right choice, automated asset management is definitely the smart investment for accuracy, productivity, and profitability.