Grocery wholesaler reduces stock errors to almost zero with voice recognition system

Grocery wholesaler James Hall has cut costs and administration time by investing a six-figure sum in a voice technology system to...

Grocery wholesaler James Hall has cut costs and administration time by investing a six-figure sum in a voice technology system to help staff pick out orders.

The Preston-based company which services 460 retailers including Spar stores, is using the Business Computer Projects 80-user voice-directed picking system, Accord, to help cut errors by its warehouse staff.

Voice recognition technology is used to connect staff to the main warehouse management system that runs on a Progress database.

The technology involves staff using a wireless computer worn as a belt with a headset and microphone. Workers in the warehouse receive details of an order via the headset. The staff can verbally confirm they have fulfilled an order, ask questions and report shortages back to the system.

Technical services director Dominic Hall said there has been a significant improvement in the accuracy of orders since the system was implemented.

In the first 12 weeks picking errors fell by 90% to 0.01%. In the past four weeks errors have been almost eliminated, with only one error in 60,000 cases,.

"This is way beyond our expectations and is generating enormous savings, as rectifying incorrect deliveries to retailers is both expensive and time consuming," said Hall.

The project took four months to implement and was completed in July 2004. BCP supplied all hardware, software and services and worked with James Hall's in-house IT team to roll out the system.

The technology operates with Vocollect Talkman T2 terminals on a Symbol Technologies Spread Spectrum 24 radio frequency network.

Hall opted for expensive voice recognition technology instead of handheld devices to enable staff to have both hands free when picking goods. In the past staff would manually label the goods with the order number, but now the voice system asks staff for the last four digits of the barcode on the product. The system recognises the product and records it against the order.

The wholesaler expects the investment to pay for itself within 18 months. "The majority of the payback will be generated by reductions in the cost of errors, fewer financial claims, lower return handling costs and improved wholesale and retail stock accuracy," said Hall.

Other benefits include improved stock accuracy, stationery savings from the elimination of labels, and administration savings. Hall estimated the firm had saved two and a half man-days a week since the introduction of the voice recognition technology in the frozen foods department.

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