As the third largest DIY retailer in the UK, with 250 stores nationwide offering an extensive range of DIY and gardening products, Focus DIY aims to make continuous improvements in its Supply Chain.
The challenge was to identify a well-proven voice recognition system that would fit seamlessly with Focus DIYs current Warehouse Management System and legacy IT systems and could be implemented with minimum disruption to the supply chain.
The company identified that the introduction of voice directed picking at its Distribution Centres in Tamworth and Bristol could achieve dramatic improvements in overall productivity, as well as improved accuracy and order fulfilment. The Distribution Centres store about 20,000 lines in about 750 thousand square feet and employ around 350 staff.
Focus DIY chose to implement Vocollects Talkman hardware and control software from voice technology specialists VoiteQ using AquiTecs voice task. Aquitec is a leading supplier of supply chain management software:
- AquiTec is one of the few WMS (Warehouse Management System) vendors to offer a true native interface into voice. By taking advantage of this capability, integration would be straightforward and would not require additional investment in middleware.
- Familiarity with the existing AquiTec WMS system meant minimum disruption to existing working processes such as releasing work assignments.
- The system required minimal user training with the added benefit of simplified user acceptance through familiarity with existing software.
- AquiTec offered to provide a one-stop shop for Focus DIYs voice implementation and ongoing trouble-shooting and service requirements.
Focus DIY opted for a phased approach to implementation, introducing Voice Picking to each warehouse a section at a time. This approach allowed Focus to measure the comparative successes of each part of the roll-out, assess user uptake and correct any problems before continuing. In the event, the implementation of Voice Picking was problem-free, with the roll-out taking just four weeks to complete at the Bristol Distribution Centre in May 2005 and six weeks at the larger Tamworth site. By August 2005, Voice Picking was successfully and fully rolled out, ahead of schedule, to all 350 operators across three shifts at both sites.
Voice in action; the training
The critical test for Voice Picking was the roll-out to the picking operators. Since the system works by creating a unique user profile, each user needed to be trained individually using a voice template of 64 words. Training took just 30 minutes for each user. The multi-cultural nature of the workforce presented no obstacle to training and the system responded well to the definitions of alpha numerics in diverse accents.
The whole training process was incredibly easy and our staff took to it extremely well, remarked Shane Phillips, Focus DIY Business Systems Manager. We were impressed by the speed of the training and how quickly we were able to get the system rolled-out.
Feedback from the coalface
- Picking operators no longer have to queue up at an office window to collect their next pick assignment thus removing long waiting times for each new assignment.
- With Voice Picking, as soon as one task is completed, the system gives the operators their next assignment, considerably improving efficiency.
- The hands-free ability of the Talkman makes it simple to pick up a case and receive information without having to put the case down to look at paper.
- The new picking procedures have eliminated delays due to paper documents holding the job details being either lost or mislaid.
- Product details are checked by verbal interaction with the system, making life considerably easier for the pickers.
- Pickers have pointed out the improved health and safety benefits as they can keep their full attention on any obstacles in front of them.
Results and returns
The initial indications from the implementation at Focus DIY are of an increase in performance and accuracy from the picking operators, leading to an increase in cases per hour picked and an improvement in the level of stock accuracy. Focus DIY now expects that the system will fully deliver its return on investment within 18 months.
Everyone involved in the implementation of Voice Picking system has been incredibly impressed, especially with its reliability as it has been remarkably problem-free the system has never broken down and has run like a dream. commented Shane Phillips, We are looking at how the voice system can help to improve other areas of warehouse and supply chain management, such as put-away and pick face replenishment. Moving forward, we see AquiTec as a key partner for Focus DIY.