Sunday 23rd Oct 2016 - Logistics Manager

Appleby Westward raises its voice

Appleby Westward Group has seen a 97.3 per cent reduction in pick errors at its 7,200 sq m Saltash RDC after installing an Accord voice recognition system from BCP.

The grocery wholesaler, which is the food distributor for SPAR for the South and West of England, has reported that it now saves more than £100,000 per year with the new technology.

The investment comprises BCP’s complete Accord Voice Directed Picking solution, operating with the latest Vocollect Talkman T5 terminals and a Symbol Technologies RF network. The RDC operates six and a half days a week on a two-shift system, handles around 5,000 SKUs, and delivers approximately 125,000 assembled packs each week.

Previously AWG used RF scanning technology for goods receiving, FLT put-away and replenishment, but still picked orders using manual pick-by-label, which was prone to errors. AWG wanted to improve picking accuracy, provide a better service to customers and reduce the costs associated with incorrect deliveries.

Picking instructions are received via a headset and confirmed through a microphone, both linked to the main Accord WMS through a belt-worn portable computer. The technology was installed in phases. Once it was fully operational in the bulk warehouse, it was incorporated into the main warehouse where most ambient lines are picked.

Finally, voice was implemented in the security warehouse, a separate unit within the main warehouse. Here picking is more complex with the warehouse divided into five departments (wines, spirits, tobacco, pharmacy, cakes) and operators picking splits and singles as well as cases.

The system manages the whole process, splitting orders into different departments, directing pickers to locations, checking quantities and controlling the assembly of orders at a single point. The conversion was complete in six months, with 29 pickers using the system. 

Philip Brewer, AWG operations and IT director, says: “This alone represents a saving of £2,000 per week in additional sales and customer stores are benefiting from the greater accuracy with the right products in the right place at the right time.”

Potential productivity improvements were not used to justify the investment, but improvements here include an ambient pick rate increase of about five packs per hour. 

“Assemblers – even those who’ve been with us for years and very settled into the old system – really like the new technology.  They’re keen to extend it to other warehouse activities as they’ve found it makes their jobs much easier. If asked, they wouldn’t want to go back to the old assembly label processes,” says Brewer.

Since the initial investment, AWG has introduced Directed Replenishment of the pick face. Stock levels at the pick face are monitored in real-time and FLT drivers directed to replenish items. 

The improvements have “exceeded expectations”, says Brewer. “We’re delighted with the accuracy improvements and the capital this is releasing will contribute significantly to a rapid payback on the project.”