Associated Wholesale Grocers (AWG), one of the largest grocery cooperative in the nation, has implemented Vocollect's voice-directed distribution system, an integrated software and hardware solution, in its 1 million square-foot Kansas City, Kan., facility, replacing both paper pick lists and hand-held scanning terminals in its case-picking operations. The payback was well under one year's time, and according to AWG, that despite the precision of scanners, accuracy results with voice are at least equivalent to that of scanners, and frequently better, with error rates dropping by 25% following the installation.
"AWG has always used technology to improve its operations and provide better service to our retail customers," says Rich Vastine, AWG's corporate director of industrial engineering. "Previously, we went from paper to bar code scanners to increase accuracy rates, but lost productivity. Now, with voice, we get both benefits. A hands- and eyes-free operation is such a natural way for our associates to work.
According to Robert Walker, AWG's executive vice president and CFO, the proof is in the payback. "We'll save millions of dollars with the voice installation. Our initial calculations projected an 18-month payback, but it will be quicker than that. Our original figures were based solely on expected accuracy and productivity gains. We hadn't even considered the additional benefits and savings we're getting from reductions in training time, product and equipment damage, and workers' compensation claims."
Installed in February 2003, Vocollect's voice-directed distribution application software is configured specifically for AWG's warehouse operation and provides managers with real-time visibility into floor operations so they can react to changing conditions immediately. The system pairs Vocollect's industrial speech recognition technology with its rugged, built-for-purpose, full-shift wearable Talkman voice computer, running Microsoft Windows CE and 802.11b WLAN technologies. It readily integrated with AWG's existing technology infrastructure.
AWG's Kansas City warehouse includes dry goods, frozen and perishable items; runs three shifts, seven days a week; and has more than 200 Talkman mobile voice computers in use. The warehouse stocks 25,000 SKUs and ships 450 orders each day to 325 stores in the Midwest.
AWG also plans to put voice to work for additional applications in its operation, according to Vastine. "Voice is a viable tool that works tremendously well in our environment. Once we implement the Vocollect system for picking in our other facilities, we'll deploy voice in all aspects of the warehouse. We want to maximize our investment and the payback we're seeing with voice."