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Booths Voice – Powered Results

June 29, 2010

Booths Voice implementation brings powerful results.

Since June 1847, five generations of the Booth family have led E H Booth & Co Ltd from its humble beginnings as one small shop, to its current position as a leading regional retailer, renowned for its quality and customer service, with 26 stores across the Northern counties of Lancashire, Cheshire, Yorkshire and Cumbria.

With three members of the fifth generation of the family now firmly in command, ably supported by an enthusiastic and committed staff, many of whom are share holders, E.H. Booth & Co. Ltd continues to “… sell the best goods available, in attractive stores, staffed with first class assistants.”

The Challenge

To provide a picking solution that would drive productivity and increase efficiency.

With 26 stores located across the north of England and an annual turnover of £215 million, Booths is experiencing considerable year on year growth and expansion. As a result of the company’s growth it was decided that its existing paper-based picking solution at its distribution centre needed to be more efficient.

An increase in accuracy would reduce costs and provide greater customer satisfaction. The paper-based pick operation was expensive and there was a desire to reduce the cost-percase pick overhead.

“With over 25,000 individual stock lines to manage and an increasing number of outlets, we needed a picking solution that would drive productivity and increase efficiency.”
Andrew Rafferty
IT Manager, Booths

The Solution

Voice technology for order pickers.

In autumn 2005 Booths installed Voiteq’s VoiceMan™ pick by voice solution at its distribution centre in Preston. VoiceMan is a middleware solution which bolts onto the existing warehouse management systems (WMS) without disturbing any of its existing functionality but takes over the picking aspect of the operation. At Booths, the voice system integrates seamlessly with the incumbent CSfD WMS. Voiteq incorporated 24 Talkman® terminals from Vocollect – the choice made by over 80% of the world’s voice operations.

Instead of printing reams of picking assignments, they are sent en masse to VoiceMan which issues the assignments to pickers, via the radio frequency (RF) network, in the sequence required by the operation. Pickers wear the voice terminal on their belts, with a headset and microphone attached; this allows order pickers to have their orders read to them instead of having to interpret them from pick sheets.

The Talkman™ T2x terminals also enable pickers to move around the warehouse with their hands and eyes free without interruption, as this new method of picking eliminates the need to return to base to collect a new pick assignment. There is also no need to waste time changing batteries mid-shift, as a fully charged battery will last in excess of 10 hours.

Pickers confirm the accuracy of the pick by reading back the three digit location code. Booths can also make use of the ‘description’ command for clarification of the item to be picked. The pickers can now pick cases or items without confusion over the unit of issue e.g. one single item or one case, Booths utilise the unit pick for much of the wines and spirits zone. Pickers share the Talkman terminals over the three shifts, but each picker has their own headset for hygiene reasons.

The resultant pick information is automatically sent back to the WMS which is unaware that picking was carried out by any other method other than its own paper based system.

The Result

Greater accuracy and efficiency in the warehouse.

The VoiceMan solution takes “picking” information from the existing CSfD WMS automatically and sorts the pick assignments into the appropriate sequence. It then issues those pick assignments to pickers logging on for work. The assignment is sent over the RF network (802.11b) to the picker’s voice terminal, which consists of a securely fastened belt mounted Talkman unit and headset. The picker is guided around the warehouse by the most efficient route, told which locations to visit and how many items/cases to pick whilst there. Verification of pick is currently provided by the picker reading out the location check digits, the Talkman terminal only gives the amount to pick if the check digits quoted are correct.

Any short-picks are displayed on supervisor screens in real-time providing them with an opportunity to raise the replenishment priority of those lines on the host WMS, to try to ensure that the empty slots can be replenished before the next picker comes to that location. Pickers who have experienced “shorts” are sent back to those locations at the end of that assignment to attempt to repick the shorted lines.

Pickers are told whether their pick is cases or items which greatly reduces unit of issue problems. If the picker is unsure of the item to be picked they can ask the voice system for a product description at any time to clarify the item to be selected – the voice terminal reads out the description of the product in question, using the description held in the host database.

The pickers can suspend a job at break times and re-load that job after their break; alternatively another picker can complete that assignment for them if it is urgent. All break times are now tracked by the system which logs break time and other non-productive time.

Supervisory staff and managers can now see up-to-the-minute picking progress with a quick glance at a VoiceMan screen, which is updated in real-time, enabling them to make more efficient use of the workforce. This information was not available from the previous paper-based system, because that system could only be manually updated when a picker finished his assignment and returned to the pick office for another pick assignment. The information now available in VoiceMan can also show the pick-force’s speed and progress in real-time, allowing management to monitor the performance of each individual picker.

Pickers are now working hands-free and eyes-free which creates a much safer working environment as the pickers are more able to focus on their surroundings rather than having to concentrate on a piece of paper as they navigate around the warehouse.

Since the introduction of “voice” at Booths, not only has productivity increased dramatically, but they have also seen near perfect picking accuracy which enhances the excellent service that its customers expect from Booths.

Due to continued expansion the workforce has increased since the introduction of voice but in spite of this the cost-per case pick overhead has still decreased by around 2p per case.

Now that Booths has experienced the startling results that voice directed warehousing can provide, it can see other areas where voice can be utilised to gain even more benefits, without necessarily purchasing any more voice terminals, for example stock counting when the day’s pick is complete – a project which will start shortly.

“We chose Voiteq specifically because of its understanding of our business and its expertise in our sector. We needed a provider who was prepared to be flexible and integrate their voice solution into our existing WMS”
Andrew Rafferty
IT Manager
Booths

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