Grocery wholesaler James Hall & Co is to roll out the Accord Voice Picking system from supply chain software firm BCP across its entire warehouse operation.
Workers using the system have a wearable computer with a headset and microphone, which links to the server via a radio frequency network. For voice-directed picking, staff are instructed via the headset what to pick and where to pick it. They then verbally confirm their actions back to the system through the microphone.
The wholesaler, which supplies 460 stores across north west England, including the Spar chain, is expecting the £350,000 installation to pay for itself within a year, with gains in productivity and accuracy in making up orders.
The roll-out is part of a wider technology upgrade, which includes the introduction of radio frequency identification systems and web-based ordering, as the company seeks to improve deliveries. The voice technology has already been successfully introduced in James Hall's frozen foods and cigarettes and drinks departments.
The voice picking software will operate with Vocollect Talkman T2 terminals on a Symbol RF network. BCP will deliver all hardware, software and services in a phased implementation.
The voice system replaces a paper-based pick-by-label warehouse system in a move aimed at reducing the potential for human error at the firm, where staff assemble 2,500 orders a week from more than 6,000 product lines.
Dominic Hall, the wholesaler's technical services director, said errors in the frozen foods department had fallen by 90% since the introduction of the voice system. "This was way beyond our expectations and is generating enormous savings," he said.
Hall added, "Ultimately, it is all about giving our customers the best service, and the voice picking system is helping us do just that. Accurate deliveries mean they can now focus on maximising sales and competing better in an increasingly competitive market, rather than spending valuable time checking deliveries."