arvato UK is given a Big Hand by top-VOX UKs Pick by Voice System

Entertaining people is big business and companies working in this sector need to function efficiently and their performance needs to be spot on.

One such company is arvato in the UK, which provides logistics and distribution services for the entertainment industry.  arvato commenced business in the UK in 2000. arvato is the services arm of Bertelsmann AG, the global media company, and has the capability to deliver any entertainment product to retailers and consumers within the UK inside 24 hours. Every day 250,000 500,000 CDs and DVDs are supplied to some 2,500 addresses in the UK and Ireland from arvatos Milton Keynes logistics centre.  

The warehouse covers 19,516 square meters and stores 20,000 items. Its permanent staff is in excess of 160 employees, with sixty-three in the picking function.   This is supplemented with thirty temporary staff during the peak (pre Christmas) season.  The normal two shifts per day are also extended to a 24 hour operation during this prime time. Pickers use multiple order picking carts and pick defined stock units.

Due to the fast moving nature of the entertainment business, distribution centres need to be capable of providing a speedy, accurate and meticulous service for customers. A logistic companys ability to function at such a high level depends to a great extent on the capabilities of the warehouse system used. This, together with the rigorous demands of the music and home entertainment industry, led to the decision by arvato to implement new cutting edge technology and processes. The old warehouse system was being deployed in conjunction with manual picking.  The orders were being picked three at a time from a summary picking list, which required pickers to conduct a considerable amount of administrative work. After making the decision to up-date the Milton Keynes distribution centre, arvato decided to search for a suitable replacement system.  What they were looking for should be quick and easy to implement, reduce errors and at the same time boost efficiency. It was a tall order.

The Solution
In the end arvato decided to replace their existing system with a new in-house Open Distribution System (ODS) system. At the same time this move to ODS was made, the warehouse also transferred to a Pick by Voice system from top-VOX UK called topSPEECH-Lydia.  This Pick by Voice system was already in operation at one of arvatos German sites. The choice of Pick by Voice was a combination of commercial reasons, as well as the fact that it was more flexible when compared to the Radio Data Terminal (RDT) system that was used at many other sites.

It only took three months from the time the decision was made to implement the system to the moment when topSPEECH-Lydia was up and running. This period included a two to three week testing and training session to enable all the staff to be trained how to use the system. arvato then went live with all 33 topSPEECH-Lydia units simultaneously.

The Benefits
The speech-based system is a major improvement on the previous system. The new one provides a much higher level of accuracy and validation during the picking process. The pickers wear headsets which allow them to have both hands free for picking, which is a big bonus and enables them to exclusively concentrate on the compilation of the order instead of also having to organise their workflow. The amount of administration a picker has to do is also significantly reduced.  These advantages have meant the company has experienced a considerable improvement in the picking rate and a substantial reduction in the number of errors.

Paul Jarman, Senior Distribution Manager at the Milton Keynes warehouse comments: We can already see the full potential of the system in relation to productivity as well as what it can achieve in conjunction with our main operating system.

The Product

topSPEECH-Lydia is a speech-based system which liberates the worker from unnecessary work steps, e.g. the handling of picking lists or barcode scanners.  Written instructions on paper or screen are replaced by spoken directions which are received via a headset.  The normal data input is not done by means of a keyboard or scanner but by an integrated microphone receiving the workers spoken words.  The system has a novel audio filter which works with a specially developed speech model, removing general background sounds such as the loud crashes and clatter that are normal in a warehouse environment.  This ensures a high speech recognition rate despite the typical distribution centre noise level.

The systems command selection is also extremely flexible.  On completion of a successful picking procedure the employee has the option to choose to finish the process using End or Finished. Speech dependent systems normally require special extensive training, but with the implementation of topSPEECH-Lydia this is not necessary. It can be easily added to existing warehouse systems by means of database or file interfaces already in use.

Russell Richards, Distribution Director of arvato at the Milton Keynes site commented on the implementation process: We were very happy with the support we received from top-VOX UK. During the design process changes were actioned quickly and efficiently, as have any subsequent modifications. 

Speaking about arvatos hopes and plans for the future using topSPEECH-Lydia he concludes With the new system we are hoping to improve the picking rate and accuracy. In 2009 it is anticipated that new business will be taken on in the Milton Keynes Distribution Centre and additional Pick by Voice equipment will be purchased to handle this.

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