Goldsboro, NC: Pate Dawson Co. is a fourth generation, family-owned foodservice distributor, since 1885. The firm selected a voice picking solution because many users were skipping certain locations, and the voice picking solution told them to go to the skipped location and pick. The users believed they could build a better pallet because of the irregular shape of the item and wanted to put it on top. Jeff Slevin, COO of Lucas Systems shares: "The insight the voice system gave them was important… if we re-slot items in the order that makes it best for our selectors, we won't have them skipping slots, and productivity goes up." The company performed a re-slotting exercise and indeed boosted productivity, while maintaining quality; thanks to the voice picking technology.
Pate Dawson justified its investment in voice on expected accuracy improvements – it went from about one picker error per 1,000 cases to less than one error per 15,000 cases. Productivity gains were gravy and some of those benefits were realized a year or more after voice was implemented due to managers using the insight of the management console to understand how and what to re-slot. Slotting optimization is a field unto itself, and so-called Tier One WMS systems provide algorithms for slotting. Pate Dawson did not have a warehouse management system, so it used the insight provided by the voice system.
"It's not just about the quality of the food product picked," asserts Slevin, makers of Jennifer VoicePlus. "The product traceability initiatives in grocery and food service must be able to track the date an item is produced for expiration when shipped from a distribution center." While some customers will accept a product within 30 days of expiration, others might only accept within 60 days of expiration date. Because of this critically important variability, capturing date information when picking with a voice system as compared to light – is often preferred. Pick to light solutions may utilize an RF bar code scanner, however employees must then enter data using a keypad, which is far more prone to error. Similarly, with a paper-based system, a food distribution center employee writes the data on a log sheet, which must then be key entered, introducing two places for data error and compromising the quality. Pick to light generally is not used in grocery, foodservice, and other major food distribution centers – which are generally case-picking processes. The main alternative to voice in these segments is paper or label-based picking or RF/barcode scanning.
The advantage of voice systems is that they combine the advantages of voice and RF in a single, seamless process. Slevin insists, "In a voice system food distribution companies capture the date code, an employee with a headset simply goes to the location, say picking item, and the solution, such as Jennifer, says enter date; the person reads in date, and captures that information at the point of pick."