Raising the standard with Voice

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Huge gains for Brakes warehouse via Voiteq voice controlled order picking system

The Brakes warehouse in Grantham is the companys largest, supplying chilled and frozen goods to the food service industry and to other Brakes depots. The sales team takes the customer orders up to 5pm for next day delivery, so the pressure is on the warehouse and its staff to load the 1400 delivery vehicles ready for their 6am start. Once the customer order information is available, the Warehouse Management System (WMS), SAP, then breaks down the orders further by customer, weight and dimension, and then warehouse picking lists are produced. Traditionally, these lists have been created on paper and warehouse operatives had to work from printed sheets.

As a system, paper-based picking worked but, with the increase in products to be supplied, a more efficient methodology was needed. The pickers found the paper-based system clumsy; they always having a list in their hand, which made lifting larger items from shelves difficult at times as well as potentially posing a risk to safety. There was also a certain amount of lost time, as pickers would be moving back and forth between the operational centre and the warehouse floor to check items, notify out of stock items, then sort and choose which list they wanted to pick.

The margin for error using paper-based picking was also large, as there was no process in place to prevent incorrect orders being picked and dispatched. Again, this decreased efficiency levels. Therefore, the decision was made to remove paper from the system. The Grantham depot adopted voice picking from VoiteQ and integrated it into its SAP WMS. The system comprises a piece of bolt-on middleware that sits between the WMS and the operatives. Taking a standard output file, the system gives Brakes the efficiencies of a two-way voice controlled order picking system.

Greater accuracy and efficiency

Grantham first went live with standard voice picking in the warehouse, picking the products onto pallets or into cages for specific orders. This dramatically increased productivity and accuracy, but the pallets and cages were not always packed efficiently. Grantham therefore introduced pick by cube. This method takes into account the volumetric data stored on the products, allowing the operative to make the most of the space available, requiring less new pallets and cages. Operatives use Vocollects Talkman T2 solution. Each picker wears a headset and microphone that sits easily under the mandatory hard hats worn in the warehouse environment. They also wear a waist belt to hold the voice unit that connects back to the main system through a wireless network installed in the warehouse. Once the operatives have signed on, the system tells them exactly where to go in the warehouse. A verbal check back from the operator confirms that they are in the correct position and then the voice in their ear will tell them how many items to collect and where to place them in the cage.

Significant benefits 

The benefits for Brakes have been significant, with near 100 per cent accuracy in orders. Implementing voice technology has also speeded up the rate at which operatives can pull orders together; a massive benefit when working in such a tight timeframe. The system recognises sounds rather than words and is trained to understand commands from each individual operative. Pickers can communicate with the Talkman unit in any dialect. This also has implications for the time it takes to train new employees. More recently, Brakes Grantham introduced pick by line to the system. This provides the operatives with the option to select the correct quantity to various orders from the same line of products and place the picked products into specific cages. Following the improvements and productivity gains from implementing a voice system in the order selection process, Brakes is now looking to use voice in other parts of the business including replenishment.

About Brakes

Brakes is a leading supplier of quality food to the catering industry in the UK and France, with a turnover in excess of 1.6 billion.

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