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Connect Distribution Case Study

February 13, 2013

Voice Connecting the Home

Finding the right spare part for domestic appliances can be difficult, however, it’s made easier through the web.

Connect Distribution, is a leading provider in this market, to both trade and consumer buyers. It has in excess of 200 websites including buyspares & 4ourhouse servicing the industry, including a partnership with Dixons through partmaster.co.uk.

The company has over 1000,000 product lines that go through its six-acre national distribution centre (NDC) in Birmingham; which processes over 180,000 orders per month for customers throughout the UK, Europe and further afield.

The Challenge

Experiencing expediential growth, the company increased the size of its NDC and number of staff. With this in mind, it needed to improve productivity and accuracy across its order fulfilment, as well as obtain a greater handle on labour management and service levels to its customers.

Much of Connect Distribution’s growth had been accomplished through increased demand over its 200 websites. The nature of e-fulfilment meant that the company had to respond quickly and accurately to orders, at the same time as meeting its next day service level agreements (SLAs).

Previously, the company had used a label-based picking method, which slowed staff down and increased travel time around its, now, larger DC. Most importantly, the method was prone to human error and required additional checking at the packing stage; which cost the company not only in time but financially in correcting mistakes that left the operation unnoticed.

In addition, staff at Connect Distribution, are incentivised for the speed and accuracy of their orders. With the label-based system, it was hard to track the results of individual members of staff. Furthermore, it was proving difficult to reallocate champion pickers when an urgent order came in, highlighting the need for a new system that provided better labour management tools.

To facilitate this need and to ensure orders were accurate and on time, the company sought a solution that would meet these requirements and adapt well to its physical and IT environments. As well as, find a company that would fully support Connect Distribution from implementation and well into its future.

Familiar with the proven productivity and accuracy gains associated with voice technology, Connect Distribution’s Director of NDC Operations, Iain Priestley, first commissioned Voiteq to run a trial of its own VoiceMan and Vocollect’s voice technology in September 2009.

Following this trial, Connect Distribution decided to fully implement the voice solution into its conveyor picking zones. Impressed by the technology’s success rates from the trial, the firm replaced the existing label-based picking method in 2010, during one of its busiest periods and in the summer of 2012 extended voice into its put-away operation.

The Solution

Connect Distribution wanted to continue to make use of its existing legacy WMS and its functionality.

Selecting VoiceMan middleware from Voiteq, enabled them to do just that. The solution links the WMS at the back-end to the voice user on the DC floor. The VoiceMan solution also provides a unique management tool that allows Connect Distribution to view exactly what’s going on with their team at any one time.

Working in partnership, as one-team, Voiteq fully immersed themselves into the Connect Distribution business to fully understand their requirements. As such, Voiteq sought the best technology solution that would improve accuracy and productivity across the warehouse. For this they selected the Vocollect Talkman T5 computers and robust SR20 headset for a hands and eyes free operation.

In addition to this, Connect Distribution needed label printing to be combined with the voice offering, as each customer order is individually labelled for identification and traceability. Zebra’s QL320 printer was chosen to work in combination with voice and is worn over the shoulder to maintain the freedom that voice offers.

Since deploying voice across its picking zones, Connect Distribution has added the VoiceMan Putaway module, allowing the company to utilise voice beyond picking.

Its partnership approach also helped Connect Distribution to achieve full acceptance of the new system from staff.

“Our workers are incentivised on speed and accuracy, since installing the new solution everyone’s rates have peaked and our workers literally wouldn’t go back to the old system,” commented Priestley.

The Results

“In year one, we achieved annual productivity gains of between 25 to 40 per cent, which exceeded our initial prediction. Now in year two, we are seeing an 85 per cent improvement in productivity over our old manual system.”

The gain in productivity has meant that the company is continually meeting its SLA commitment of next day delivery for orders placed before 3pm for trade and 6pm for consumer.

Connect Distribution put this impressive gain and service level increase down to the simplicity of their voice solution and in its ability to enable their workforce to focus on the task at hand.

Since installing the voice solution, the company has also experienced an impressive 76 per cent gain in accuracy, which further adds to its better levels of customer service and satisfaction, putting the company miles ahead of its competition.

Not forgetting that Connect Distribution also needed a better way of managing its labour force, the voice system interacts directly with its custom built incentive software, BGEN, and provides supervisors with real-time information on performance and helps identify whether there are any training needs required.

The improvements made across the business and its improved labour management has enabled the company to obtain a quick return of investment in just 12 months. Proving that, voice isn’t only improving the business operations but it now pays for itself.

“Voiteq showed impressive flexibility in developing a tailored voice solution. We’re delighted with the implementation and the outstanding levels of support we received,” Concluded Priestley.

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