Giving a voice to the FMCG warehouse

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INFORMATION: Free information is available from VOCOLLECT on the subject in this story. Click here to request a copy

In an industry where the driving force is the immediate availability of goods, its not surprising that the FMCG market requires increasing emphasis on effective distribution.

With fast moving consumer goods (FMCG), being a low-margin and extremely competitive business, its imperative that products reach the consumer in a cost-effective and efficient manner, keeping profit margins up and the supply chain moving. While it is common knowledge that the supply chain is only as strong as its weakest link, its difficult to pinpoint any one area for specific attention in a sector where the market is composed of many categories, each with unique issues and needs.

One of the most crucial areas for efficient distribution is within the warehouse, where levels of accuracy and productivity have a direct impact on the organisations profit margins. In addition, modern warehouses are now more than places to accumulate and store inventory. They have become multi-faceted distribution and fulfilment centres, undoubtedly benefiting operations, but ultimately increasing in their complexity.

Introducing voice-directed distribution
When considering the many issues surrounding FMCG, the right application can be a supply chain saviour. The urgent nature of FMCG demands fast and accurate distribution, and voice technology is a solution that when applied to the warehouse, can significantly aid all aspects of inventory management.

The FMCG warehouse is complex; comprising many areas such as frozen or fresh produce sections, fast and slower moving items areas, with different handling conditions, making it vital for operatives to receive accurate and specific instructions. With a voice-directed system, operatives need only a small terminal and a lightweight headset to communicate in real-time with the warehouse management system (WMS). This solution streams commands from the WMS direct to the pickers terminal, directing them to their next pick. On reaching the destination, the operative is also able to confirm the product with the system, ensuring that correct items are sourced.

By keeping the lines of communication open, voice also allows the flow of up-to-date pick status information, which leads to more reliable deliveries.

Ready replenishment
Order selection using voice technology is only the start. Despite shorter lead times and improved supply levels, stocks-outs are still common place, but voice has a role to play in helping reduce these. As products move off the shelves quickly, they require constant replenishing, and peak season times often demonstrate organisations struggling to satisfy consumer demand. Voice is also capable of alternative applications such as receiving, putaway, inventory transfer, line-loading and even replenishment and cycle-counting. The real-time interaction of voice allows replenishment of picking slots as soon as they become empty, and stock checks can be built into picking tasks, improving the accuracy of stock recording and essentially, efficiency. By keeping the lines of communication open, voice also allows the flow of up-to-date pick status information, which leads to more reliable deliveries.

Its all in the timing
Stock control aside, one of the most pressing issues for any FMCG market, is time. FMCG commands constant focus on the fast handling of goods and therefore, cross-docking and first-in, first-out are important principles. Many organisations, such as Mestdagh group, a major chain of supermarkets in Belgium, place emphasis on storage periods and "best before" data. Mestdagh, stocks some 10,000 different products, of which 2500 are perishables, and using voice they have increased productivity in this challenging warehouse scenario. In this situation voice typically increases productivity up to 50 per cent, reduces training time by 50 per cent and allows greater collaboration with suppliers. All of which are crucial time considerations in such a demanding atmosphere.

Looking at the various attributes of voice within this sector, its clear the technology is enhancing operations, from improving accuracy and productivity to ensuring safety.

Ever-changing demand
As FMCG organisations buy and sell brands frequently, products are constantly being introduced and discontinued. Variable customer requirements, ever-changing schedules and shorter production runs also impact on operations, necessitating the use of distribution solutions such as voice. Dutch distribution centre Kruidvat, owned by AS Watson, is just one example. Their chain of action warehouses, distributes campaign-specific products such as CDs and pen sets and as these product offers frequently change, the warehouse has to be completely reconfigured every month. By using voice, Kruidvat has raised levels of productivity and speed, as well as keeping up with the fulfilment of orders and stock.

Cost is key
While inventory is high on the agenda, cost is a constant focus for FMCG organisations, as margins are slim. This is an industry that celebrates saving one hundredth of a penny per unit; therefore, each organisation strives to be the low-cost leader. This price-war emphasises the need to control losses, keep mis-picks to a minimum and ensure speedy delivery to the shop floor. With a voice system in place, accuracy is typically elevated to 99.99 per cent, mainly by the simple avoidance of mis-keying, associated with hand-held computers or paper based systems. Workers are also able to concentrate Hands-free Eyes-free on the task at hand, confirming each item as they pick. In addition to the avoidance of mis-picks, organisations can expect speedy payback on investment with most cases displaying ROI within a year.

 By employing voice technology users are more easily able to maintain a holistic view of warehouse operations and product lifecycles including the assessment of stock levels, stock rotation and workers pick rates.

Safety first
Moving away from the products themselves, the health of the worker should not be overlooked. In warehouses where there are areas of differing temperatures and multiple product types which require various picking methods, there are obvious distractions, including various types of goods handling equipment; therefore safety must be a priority. With local UK authorities stating that, an average of more than 2300 reportable injuries occur in warehousing environments per year, there has never been more emphasis on secure working practices. Voices, hands-free, eyes-free approach can combat this issue by improving concentration on the task in hand and increasing awareness of the workers surroundings.

Raising the stakes
Looking at the various attributes of voice within this sector, its clear the technology is enhancing operations, from improving accuracy and productivity to ensuring safety. By employing voice technology users are more easily able to maintain a holistic view of warehouse operations and product lifecycles including the assessment of stock levels, stock rotation and workers pick rates. Its versatility means that it can be implemented into most warehouse situations, and by understanding any language, dialect or accent, it has potential worldwide. Voice is continuing to evolve to suit new demands and extending into various applications in the FMCG world. One thing remains certain: when your work speaks for itself, don't interrupt.

 

Greg Tanner is managing director of Vocollect Europe, the global leader in voice technology and the growing range of industrial applications that put voice to work. With more than 60,000 users at hundreds of companies and locations throughout Asia Pacific, Europe and North America, Vocollect has deployed more integrated voice-directed distribution systems than any other company. Together, its market-leading Talkman wearable computer and integrated software suite cut operating costs by eliminating errors and improving worker productivity shift after shift.

 

 

INFORMATION: Free information is available from VOCOLLECT on the subject in this story. Click here to request a copy

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