The Buzz Over Voice Picking

A recent survey by the Aberdeen Group on voice technology tells it all—companies are increasingly looking to do more with less, and undoubtedly view voice picking as one way to help get them there.

According to Bob Heaney, senior research analyst, supply chain management with the consulting firm, “Often, complexity requires more labor interaction and a need (or desire) to balance labor by integrating more mobile/interactive technology and voice capability into picking or replenishment operations.”

The statement rings true for Cooper Booth Wholesale, a Pennsylvania-based full-line, full-service wholesale distributor for retailers and convenience stores, which began looking at voice technology over three years ago.

Trevor Martin, vice president of operations at Cooper Booth Wholesale, recalls the vetting process that the company undertook before choosing topVOX. “We are very thorough before we purchase anything. We went through other scanning systems and voice-pick options, but when it came to making the final decision, we felt most comfortable with topVOX.”

The functionality features and ease of use were stand-outs for Martin, but topVOX also offered “an open package that could be integrated directly to our WMS,” he says. “The solution was also comparatively low-cost and we felt that we could achieve a fast ROI with the system.”

Cooper Booth Wholesale went live with topVOX in April 2009. “The implementation went as well as we could have expected,” says Martin, which was also due to a lot of good planning and communication prior to flipping the “on” switch.

“When we made the decision to purchase topVOX, we put a game plan together with a topVOX project manager and topVOX technician in order to ensure integration, right up to go-live, would run smoothly,” explains Martin. “Between us, we worked out a dialogue that would fit best for our picking operation. We only needed two training sessions for all our key employees. The staff picked orders in a test mode to ensure they had learned how to operate the systems; they picked it up very quickly. In addition, topVOX personnel remained at our site for several weeks afterwards, simply to help out if we needed it during implementation.”

Marceline Absil, vice president of sales and marketing for topVOX, believes her company’s voice technology stands out from other competitors’ offerings. “A main differentiator is that topVOX uses a speaker-independent solution, so absolutely no training is required to get operators up and running. And, multiple languages can be used in the same environment.” She notes another unique feature, called “wireless telephony,” that allows a supervisor or manager to contact the operator while they’re picking.

Absil adds that, “topVOX is the developer of topSpeechLydia, which has been implemented since 1995.” The company used a speaker-dependent solution (where pickers are trained on templates) until 2006, when it developed a speaker-independent solution. According to Absil, existing customers had the option to select either one, “and collectively, everyone went to the speaker-independent solution and never looked back!”

Absil sees new opportunities for voice technology. “Customers are looking to use voice in different processes,” she says. “Whereas voice used to be just a ‘picking solution,’ it can now be used for all processes in the supply chain, for example returns, put-away, quality control, kitting, and so on.”

Martin confirms that observation. “Although we currently use voice only for picking, we plan to use the system for receiving, put-away, and inventory control in the near future,” he says. “We’re really enoying the benefits of having a hands-free way of working, and it’s really impressing us even more than we had anticipated.”

Even though the economy has been tough for most businesses in recent years, Cooper Booth Wholesale has sustained market growth, reports Martin. Perhaps most importantly, “Our voice solution only adds to our overall profitability through improved productivity and greater picking accuracy. We could literally pull someone off the street, and after a few minutes’ training have them up and running,” he says. “Overall, we’ve seen an increase in productivity by approximately 14 percent. We track errors in terms of one per thousand, and since using topVOX, our errors have gone down by over 8 percent. And, performance is actually so good that we expect an ROI inside of our estimation.”

Shopping for a Voice Picking System? Here are Some Words of Advice
Cooper Booth Wholesale’s Martin shares his tips for choosing the right voice technology:
• First, invite the vendor to visit your operation to make sure they understand the processes in order to get the most out of the solution.
• Ensure easy integration with the warehouse management system (WMS) and test! We were up and running the following day after we went live.
• The speaker-independent solution is the way to go.
• Ensure payback within a maximum of one year.
• We work closely with our vendors and expect excellent customer service. Make sure the vendor you choose delivers on your expectations.

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