Using voice and bar code scanning at Longos

A Canadian grocer combines two technologies to streamline picking processes in its fresh meat department.
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Longo Brothers Fruit Markets Inc.is a family owned business which was started byTommy, Joe and Gus Longo in 1956. The first store was located on Yonge Street and Castlefield, in Toronto. The first location was no more than 2,000 square feet.

By Bob Trebilcock, Executive Editor
July 01, 2009 - MMH Editorial

Last February, Longos Brothers Fruit markets, a 53-year-old family-owned grocery chain installed a voice-directed picking solution (Lucas Systems) to improve productivity in its distribution centers in Mississauga, Ontario.

The result, says John Charleson, director of supply chain and information technology, for the 16-store chain has been a 14% increase in improved productivity—from 140 cases per hour to 164 cases per hour.

But Longos has taken the implementation of voice one step further, combining it with a wearable computer and ring-scanning technology, to capture check weights – the weight of a carton of product – in the meat department. “In the meat department, we sell product by the pound rather than by the case,” Charleson explains. “But having an order selector read the weights into the voice system would lead to errors. Instead, the bar code label on a carton of meat contains the weight. Capturing that with a bar code scan is more efficient and accurate.”

Longos took the first step of introducing voice when it implemented a new WMS system in February.

“Prior to that, we were using an older WMS with RF-enabled scanning guns,” says Charleson. “Increasing throughput in the facility was limited because our order selectors had to pick up and put down a scanning gun every time they completed a case pick. By implementing a new WMS (Qdata), we were able to add voice technology to our processes.”

In most of the facility, Longos uses its mobile computers (Motorola) as multi-function devices: In receiving, putaway, replenishment and pallet picking, the devices are used for bar code scanning; order selectors use them in voice mode to drive case picking.

In the meat area, on the other hand, it’s important to capture not just the type of product being picked, but also the weight of the product being picked, since that’s how the product is tracked and sold. For that reason, order selectors are outfitted with a wearable computer that includes a headset and a ring scanner. The selector is directed to a pick location and told how many cases to pick with voice. The ring scanner is used to scan a bar code label on a case of meat to capture the weight. Using a wearable computer means that the selector is still able to operate in a hands free/eyes free environment as with voice.

The result: “When we did the budget, we allocated 3 months before we would start to see benefits from voice and the wearable scanners,” says Charleson. “Instead, we began to seen an increase in productivity within three weeks. We were told we can get up to 20% improvements, we budgeted a 10% improvement, and three months later we’re up to 14%.”

Read my Blog: Voice Technology is speaking loud and clear



About the Author

Bob Trebilcock
Executive Editor

Bob Trebilcock, executive editor, has covered materials handling, technology and supply chain topics for Modern Materials Handling since 1984. More recently, Trebilcock became editorial director of Supply Chain Management Review. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.


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