Beyond Order Picking

Voice is expanding its range of users, both inside and outside the warehouse.


More than 550 facilities in 22 countries use voice technology in their day-to-day operations. Though about 90 percent of those facilities use voice for picking exclusively, a growing number of them are taking their systems beyond basic order selection.

Mitchell Grocery, a wholesaler based in Albertville, AL, is one such company. Though about 100 order pickers at the company’s three warehouses use the VoiceLogistics system from Voxware, Lawrenceville, NJ, in their daily routine, another 20 workers use it in the loading of up to 80 truckloads per day. Mitchell Grocery also uses voice in replenishment and consolidated picking for slow-moving items stored in another facility.

At the loading dock, VoiceLogistics tracks and confirms that all pallets are successfully loaded to the proper trailer and alerts operators to any missing items. The system also produces a printed manifest, which speeds the identification of specific items in each shipment and improves Mitchell Grocery’s credibility with its customers.

Each week, Mitchell Grocery delivers more than 500,000 cases of dry groceries, milk, produce and ice cream to more than 250 independent grocery retailers in the Southeast. Since deploying the system in late 2005, the company has noticed a 50 percent improvement in the loading accuracy of those shipments, according to David Mitchell, its president. “We have introduced more precision into the loading operation, which has lowered costs and improved customer satisfaction,” he says.

And with a high volume of perishable products in its 16,000-SKU inventory, the company can ill afford to have product waiting for too long on a loading dock before being loaded into a refrigerated trailer.

That is also the case for Reed Boardall, Britain’s largest frozen food distributor, serving such major retailers as Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s, Safeway and Morrison’s. Workers at Reed Boardall’s 426,000-square-foot warehouse in Boroughbridge, England, also use voice technology for loading, verification and yard management applications.

“Our vision for voice technology goes beyond the simple picking solutions,” says Keith Boardall, its group managing director. “We view voice as far more than an alternative method of capturing data. It is a means to optimize the contribution of each worker across a wide range of activities.”

Inside the warehouse, which moves 7,000-8,000 pallets of food each day, Voxware’s VoiceLogistics helps workers deliver pallets to the exact dock where a trailer is waiting for them. As a worker picks up a prepared pallet for loading, he reads an attached voice ID number into the system, which recognizes the pallet number and lets the worker know which of the 40 loading docks requires that particular pallet.

VoiceLogistics also is used to verify all the goods that go into and out of the warehouse. For every pallet that goes in or out, workers use the system to record things like temperature, case count, best-before dates and customer or supplier identification numbers.

One of the first adopters of voice for applications beyond picking was Dunkin’ Donuts, which has also brought the technology out to loading, receiving and cycle counting at its Mid-Atlantic Distribution Center (MADC) in Westhampton, NJ. The company is likely to expand the use of its voice system at the MADC even further to include put-away, replenishment and yard management within the next few months, and is even looking at bringing similar applications on line when it brings voice to another distribution center in Clermont, FL.

Though voice systems providers have been touting their systems for warehouse applications other than picking for years, it looks like it’s finally starting to take hold, especially in the food industry, say system providers and industry insiders alike.

Pick To Start

Most companies that have already implemented voice in other warehouse applications started in picking, and as they saw a return on their investment there, they expanded it to other areas.

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