Voice technology speaks to workers

Pet Supermarket installs a voice-directed picking solution to create a best in show distribution center.

By ·

Pet Supermarket is a growing pet retailer with 120 stores across the southeastern United States. With new store openings and increased sales at existing locations, the company’s distribution center in Sunrise, Fla., was facing rising shipping volumes and workloads.

The DC was growing beyond the capacity of a paper-based picking process that restricted efficiency and generated more than 1,500 sheets of paper a day. The process also generated clerical work for three full-time associates, and made it difficult for supervisors to manage daily production.

“We couldn’t keep producing this mountain of paper, and using paper and clipboards slowed us down,” says Mac Whetsel, vice president of operations. “In the ‘dog pound’ (a pallet rack section where large sacks of dog food and similar products are picked), guys are slinging 40-pound bags of dog food, so they’d have to put their clipboard down every time they needed to grab something.” Growth also caused financial challenges.

If the DC’s picking volume exceeded 45,000 a day, overtime pay kicked in.

Pet Supermarket wanted a solution to handle its growing demands without paper and without adding to staff and payroll.

The company selected a hands-free, voice-directed picking solution (Lucas Systems, lucasware.com) that includes productivity, management and speech recognition platforms. The speech platform was particularly important, since Pet Supermarket’s DC employs people from more than 30 countries. The productivity module gives managers a handle on individual and area-by-area productivity rates in real time. The systems also provide immediate picking status so workers can be moved from one pick area to another to ensure picking efficiency in all areas.

The dog pound, which was the first area to start production picking with voice, was up and running flawlessly within days. “In less than two weeks we had the whole warehouse running on voice,” says Whetsel.

Since moving to voice, the same number of pickers can pick one-third more pieces, more than 60,000 pieces per day without overtime.

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About the Author

Lorie King Rogers
Lorie King Rogers, associate editor, joined Modern in 2009 after working as a freelance writer for the Casebook issue and show daily at tradeshows. A graduate of Emerson College, she has also worked as an editor on Stock Car Racing Magazine.

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From the October 2017 Modern Materials Handling Issue
An early adopter, Rochester Drug Cooperative is using robotic piece-picking technology to complement picking of slow-moving items. System report for Rochester Drug Cooperative, Robotic picking and inventory management, Innovative distribution center robotics solutions , IAM Robotics case study
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