AWG slashes picking errors with BCPs Voice Picking

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AWG is one of the UKs top 20 delivered grocery wholesalers. Part of the BWG Food Group and SPAR food distributor for the South and West of England, AWG services some 300 SPAR stores across the region as well as exporting to NAAFI stores around the world. It operates two RDCs Saltash in Cornwall for ambient, and Cullompton in Devon for chilled produce and frozen foods.

Computerised for years, AWG used RF scanning technology for goods receiving, FLT put-away and replenishment, but still picked orders using manual pick-by-label. This was efficient, but subject to human inaccuracy. AWG was keen to improve picking accuracy, provide a better service to customers and reduce the substantial costs associated with incorrect deliveries. Witnessing the success of Voice technology at fellow SPAR distributors, James Hall and CJ Lang, AWG decided to invest in the same Accord Voice solution from BCP for its 7200m2 Saltash RDC.

Full solution

Saltash is the larger of the RDCs, comprising of two warehouses the bulk warehouse for bulk pallet storage and the main warehouse for cases. It operates 6 days a week on a two shift system, handles around 5000 SKUs and delivers, on average, 125,000 assembled packs every week. The investment encompasses BCPs complete Accord Voice Directed Picking solution, operating with the latest Vocollect Talkman T5 terminals and a Symbol Technologies RF network. BCP has supplied the full solution, working closely with AWGs in-house Voice implementation team to install the system in phases in order to build up in-house experience and minimise disruption.

The first phase was a month-long four picker pilot to thoroughly test the system before implementing Voice picking in the bulk warehouse. Operatives here handle bulky, heavy, full cases, so totally hands-free Voice technology is ideal. Picking instructions are received via a headset and confirmed through a microphone, both linked to the main Accord WMS through a belt-worn portable computer. Once the bulk warehouse was fully operational, the system was incorporated into the main warehouse, where most ambient lines are picked. Finally, Voice was implemented in the security warehouse a separate facility within the main warehouse. Here, picking is more complex with the warehouse divided into five departments (Wines, Spirits, Tobacco, Pharmacy, Cakes) and operators picking splits and singles as well as cases. Accord manages the whole process, splitting orders into different departments, directing pickers to locations, checking quantities and controlling the assembly of orders at a single point.  

Exceeded expectations

Within six months, picking at Saltash was completely converted to Voice. Twenty-nine pickers now use the system and improvements have exceeded expectations. Picking accuracy has improved significantly; error claims reducing by over 97 per cent. This alone represents a saving of 2000 per week in additional sales and customer stores are benefiting from the greater accuracy with the right products in the right place at the right time, commented Philip Brewer, AWGs operations and IT director. Potential productivity improvements were not used to justify the investment, but improvements here include an ambient pick rate increase of about 5 packs per hour.  

Pickers, initially sceptical, have adapted to Voice quickly, finding it simple to learn and adopt. Assemblers even those whove been with us for years and very settled into the old system really like the new technology, said Brewer. Theyre keen to extend it to other warehouse activities as theyve found it makes their jobs much easier. Indeed, if asked, they wouldnt want to go back to the old assembly label processes.

Rapid payback

Since the initial investment, AWG has introduced Directed Replenishment of the pick face. Stock levels at the pick face are monitored in real time and FLT drivers directed to replenish items. Warehouse service levels are now 98.33 per cent, an improvement on the manual flag system. Brewer concluded: Were delighted with the accuracy improvements and the capital this is releasing will contribute significantly to a rapid payback on the project.

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