BCP’s Accord Voice Technology Slashes Picking Errors at James Hall

James Hall & Co (Southport) Ltd’s recent investment in Voice Picking is already exceeding expectations in the performance benefits it is delivering, with picking errors virtually eliminated in the frozen foods section.

Based in Preston, James Hall is one of the top ten UK grocery delivered wholesalers with turnover exceeding £250m. As SPAR wholesaler for the NW of England, the company services some 460 retailers across an area extending from N Wales to the Humber in the South and the Scottish border in the North. Customers include independent SPAR stores as well as its chain of company owned stores – G & E Murgatroyd.Hall’s latest investment, in an 80 user Voice Directed Picking system, introduces the industry’s most advanced technology to its Preston regional distribution centre (RDC). Supply chain solution specialist Business Computer Projects Ltd (BCP), is supplying the full solution, including all hardware, software and services.

Voice Technology involves the use of a belt-worn wireless computer, with a headset and microphone so that workers receive instructions by Voice via the headset and verbally confirm their actions, ask questions and report shortages back to the system through the microphone. The wearable terminal communicates with the Warehouse Management System (WMS) via a radio frequency (RF) local area network, updating it in real time as each task is completed.

Voice Technology transforms the way warehouse operators work: eliminating the need for hand–held devices or paper instructions frees up both hands and eyes for the task, allowing operators to work faster and safer; substituting manual entry of data with verbal instructions and verification eliminates errors and saves time.

The system at Halls encompasses BCP’s Accord Voice Picking solution, operating with Vocollect Talkman T2 terminals on a Symbol Technologies Spread Spectrum 24 RF network. It replaces a paper based ‘Pick by label’ system and is being implemented in a series of phases. The first stage – for picking frozen foods – went live in July, initially as a pilot for deliveries of frozen goods to company owned stores. The pilot proved so successful that it was cut short after only two weeks and Voice Picking extended to picking for all stores.

Benefits from Voice Picking have come through very quickly at Halls. Most significant has been a rapid and dramatic improvement in pick accuracy. In the 12 weeks following implementation, picking errors fell by 90% to 0.01% and in the latest 4 week period have been virtually eliminated – only 1 error in 60,000 cases – an error rate of just 0.0017%. As Dominic Hall, Technical Services Director at James Hall, explains: “This is way beyond our expectations and is generating enormous savings, as rectifying incorrect deliveries to retailers is both expensive and time consuming.”

The impact for Hall’s retail customers has been profound. As Dominic Hall, explains: “Since voice picking has been introduced, Northern Guild SPAR members are now likely to receive an error on their frozen food order on only 1 in 450 deliveries – this means that, if they choose, they can now direct their efforts towards maximising sales and no longer have to devote valuable time to checking their frozen food delivery.”

Other benefits include improved stock accuracy – a reduction in stock variances of 89% since the introduction of Voice; stationery savings, from the elimination of labels; and substantial administration savings. Because pickers are working in real time, updating the main system as they pick, there’s virtually no further office based confirmation or amendment process to go through. Halls estimate administration savings of 2.5 man days per week since the introduction of Voice Picking in frozen foods.

Over and above this, pickers have adopted the new technology enthusiastically, finding it simple to learn and adopt. Moreover, it has made their work much easier, as the thick gloves which must be worn when picking frozen foods severely hamper the handling of labels or radio terminals.

Voice Picking in frozen foods has proved so successful that Halls have now decided to extend the technology to Picking Face Replenishment in order to improve integration and keep pick faces better stocked to meet picking needs.

Following this, the technology will be implemented throughout the rest of the operation, with the benefits generated in the frozen foods department expected to be even more substantial in the larger chilled and ambient departments. Dominic Hall concludes “After full implementation, we expect an ROI of between 12 to 18 months with the majority of the payback being generated by reductions in the cost of picking errors – fewer financial claims, lower return handling costs and improved wholesale and retail stock accuracy.”