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Associated Grocers of New England Cuts Warehouse Mis-Picks With Voice System

MANCHESTER, N.H. - Associated Grocers of New England (AGNE) reduced mis-picks, increased throughput, and cut training time in half at its Manchester distribution center by implementing a voice-directed distribution system that integrated directly with its warehouse management system.

The hands-free system, by Pittsburgh-based Vocollect, allows pickers to use both hands to pick items. "Before we selected Vocollect, we used RF scanning guns to select meat, but it reduced our productivity," AGNE's dir. of IT, customer service, and retail systems Arthur Heathcote told Progressive Grocer. "It was difficult for the selector to try to hold the scanning gun and pick meat cases. Since installing the system we reduced mis-picks from 3.5 per thousand to 1.0 per thousand."

In just three months from deployment, AGNE had converted from picking paper to voice for all split and full-case orders throughout the facility, including dry grocery, freezer, tobacco, perishables, repack, and dairy. "Our mis-picks decreased by more than 60 percent, from 3.5 cases per thousand to about 1 per thousand," said Heathcote.

"As accuracy approached 1.0 per thousand mis-picks, we've been able to dramatically reduce the expense of processing returns caused by errors, issuing credits and the lost sales they represented. We've established new records for number of items shipped in a day and can handle large swings in order volume without increasing warehouse staff."

Heathcote also noted that worker acceptance, a concern when planning for voice implementation, turned out to be a non-issue. In fact, workers embraced the new system. "We were worried about user acceptance, along with how the Vocollect system would accommodate issues such as the accents of individual workers," Heathcote said. "As it turned out, the voice profiles that each user creates ensure that voice direction works for everyone. Employees also are impressed that we've invested in this technology for them. It makes their jobs a lot easier."

Since the VoCollect solution integrates directly with the grocer's Integrated Distribution Solutions Power WarehouseT warehouse management system, Heathcote did not have to create his own interface program. "We wouldn't have selected Vocollect if it wasn’t able to directly integrate," he said. "Now, we have a complete solution that helps us cost-effectively meet the service expectations of our customers. Not only are we pushing out more pieces per shift with the same number of selectors, we're also training them better, and in half the time it used to take."

AGNE is a full-service food wholesaler, with SKU's of perishables, grocery, frozen, ice cream, dairy, cigarettes, candy and tobacco. The Manchester distribution center, which serves 450 customers throughout New England and eastern New York, stocks more than 16,000 SKUs in its 270,000 square-foot facility from all grocery categories -- and ships as many as 150 separate orders totaling up to 55,000 pieces per day. Rapid shipment is a key service objective, and AGNE commits to same-day delivery on orders received by 9 a.m. and next-day delivery for orders received by 2 p.m.

-- Joe Tarnowski
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