Engard was impressed with voice technology when he saw it demonstrated six years ago. "I knew it was perfect for us-hands free and eyes free-and it eliminated paper," he says. "We were looking into warehouse management systems (WMS), but I didn't want to use barcodes or scan labels. Our selectors have to move 50-pound bags and I knew that if they used scanners we were going to take a productivity hit."
Back then, voice was still "bleeding edge," says Engard. Plus, voice solutions are typically integrated with a WMS, and at that time, the company didn't feel it was ready for one. Last year, however, the MADC began working with Voxware, which offers its solution, VoiceLogistics, as a stand-alone system. The solution, which consists of a wearable computer and a headset that communicates with a server, can support a variety of warehouse operations, including picking, receiving, putaway, cycle counting, replenishment, cross docking and returns.
The MADC rolled out the voice system in the dry area in its old warehouse, training a handful of selectors for about eight weeks. The initial trial went very well, says Engard.
"We started with VLS-310s and when we moved into the new facility, they upgraded us to 410s," says Engard. "The 410s have a longer battery life and the unit is faster."
Today, most of the order selectors are using VoiceLogistics in all areas of the new facility. The application in use at MADC can support multiple modes of picking. Order selectors can pick discrete orders, or multiple orders, in a single pick trip. In addition, batch picking operations are supported. Selectors can have from one to three pallets at a time, with pallets sectioned off according to separate stops on the delivery route. When a selector arrives at a pick location, he is directed to pick all of the units of the item needed for all of the stops. The voice software directs the selector to put the correct number of items in the appropriate pallet location corresponding to each stop.
The system can also direct workers to batch pick a total quantity that will satisfy many orders and deliver the picked goods to a truck or loading area. This location becomes a "dynamically created pick area." Later, another selector will be directed to this location by VoiceLogistics, and the batch-picked items will be distributed among the orders as loading progresses.
"The picking solution gives us greater picking accuracy, so we were able to deploy our order checkers into other areas of the business," says Engard. "In addition, we were getting higher productivity than in the past, so our cost to move the same amount of goods is less than it was before, which is good because our business growth is so aggressive."
The system has enabled the company to exceed 99.9 percent accuracy, so it could eliminate order-checking positions.
"The accuracy is great," says Setter. "Last week, on the dry side, we had 99.93 percent accuracy on about 285,000 pieces-and that's phenomenal. We've gone from 21 hours of picking down to nine or 10 hours because of VoiceLogistics and the layout of this building."
While the implementation went fairly smoothly, there were a few obstacles to overcome. One stumbling block was RF network coverage in the cooler--it turned out the facility had dead air. "That wasn't a Voxware problem," says Engard. "We had installed the network ourselves, so we had to go and change some of the antennae. Now, it's working perfectly."
Information Technology: Linking The Supply Chain
About the same time the MADC was implementing the voice system, the company began evaluating enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions, and in the process, heard about Integrated Distribution Solutions (IDS) LLC, a software provider based in Omaha, NE. IDS had an ERP system, IDS Power Enterprise, that could be seamlessly integrated with other systems, and that caught Engard's attention.
"IDS could integrate the back-office side of the business with front-end systems, as well as with warehouse and transportation systems," says Engard. "When IDS demonstrated its products, we knew it was what we were looking for-a single solution that met most of our needs."