Voice boost for WH Smith

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In March 2004 VoiteQ completed a roll-out of its VoiceMan voice directed picking system which utilised Vocollect’s Talkman terminals for 50 WH Smith users on the warehouse floor. The voice system integrates seamlessly with the existing Dataware WMS via VoiteQ’s proprietary VoiceMan software .

The belt worn voice terminals replace paper pick lists and allow order pickers to receive picking instructions via their headsets, confirming picks as they go by reading back the last three digits of the product EAN code to ensure accuracy. WH Smith especially relies upon the description command for clarification within the book section, where several different titles share the same pickface location. This simple call for additional details prevents a mis-pick that might formerly have easily occurred. The Talkman terminals also enable pickers to move around the warehouse with their hands and eyes free without interruption, as this new method of picking eliminates the need to return to base to collect a new list between jobs.

There are also knock-on benefits. If a picker arrives at an empty location, the ‘short’ command advises the system that the shelves need to be replenished. This information is fed into the WMS and passed on to the replenishment team to action. The picker is sent back to that location at the end of the pick assignment to re-pick the short stock. “With forklifts and employees moving around together, it’s crucial to stay focussed”, expressed site manager Jim McCafferty. “With voice technology pickers can remain aware of their surroundings at all times.”

The Result is a step up in the general pace of work, with the users themselves controlling the speed of the flow of instructions from their systems. Accuracy is up to about 99.9 percent with voice picking. “It is impossible to pick the wrong item,” said McCafferty. “If a user provides an incorrect barcode, the system will not progress until the correct code is given. It also asks for quantity verification, to ensure the correct amount has been collected.”

During the first month of operation at WH Smith, estimated daily pick levels rose per person from 561 to 701. Since accuracy levels at WH Smith are much higher, the retailer has been able to dispense with quality control staff within the Holford warehouses and these staff have been moved to the picking teams.

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