Voice-directed system accommodates rapid growth

Distributor transitions from paper-based to voice-based execution ahead of facility move.

By ·

Based in Auburn, Mass., Imperial Distributors serves 3,500 supermarkets and retail stores throughout the Northeastern United States, supplying a range of health and beauty products, general merchandise and other non-food grocery items. After a decade of consistent growth, the 77-year-old company faced challenges in an aging facility with legacy systems and paper-based processes. With a new mobile work execution system, the company dramatically improved outbound accuracy and picking productivity to support timely delivery.

“After several years of double-digit growth, we were running consistently late shifts, pushing dispatches, and starting to have increased quality issues,” says Perry Lundberg, vice president of supply chain at Imperial. “Our team members were doing everything possible to keep up, but they needed help. Our picking processes and legacy warehouse management system (WMS) simply weren’t up to the task.”

Imperial’s 20-year-old WMS provides RF-based receiving and inventory control, and although it also provides RF-based picking, the system does not adequately support Imperial’s complex picking requirements. Therefore, picking was performed using stickers and paper lists across more than a dozen different picking zones.

“We urgently needed to improve picking productivity and accuracy, and we also wanted to give managers and supervisors access to information they needed to better manage the outbound processes,” Lundberg says. “We had outgrown our current facility and systems, but we needed to make changes immediately. We couldn’t wait to move into a new DC.”

After considering a WMS upgrade, the company instead deployed voice-directed mobile applications and work execution software that integrates with Imperial’s legacy WMS. The new system creates work assignments, prints labels and manages the execution of work across 12 piece- and case-picking zones, in addition to driving case picking for replenishment. The system includes configurable workflows, including bucket-brigade piece-pick to totes on conveyor, cluster pick to totes on cart, and case-pick to pallet from multi-SKU locations.

A real-time management dashboard helps supervisors manage work assignments, view individual and group productivity across zones, and address stock-outs and other exceptions as they occur. Employees quickly embraced the system, which was one of Lundberg’s initial concerns given that many hourly employees had been there for 20 or 30 years.

Within two months, mis-picks had declined from greater than 0.1% to less than 0.02%, an 80% reduction. Productivity increased 24% in the first full year, and has improved an additional 5% to 6% per year since, for an overall productivity gain of approximately 35% across the entire picking staff. New employee training was cut by more than four weeks.

Lucas Systems

(724) 940-7000

Subscribe to Modern Materials Handling Magazine!

Subscribe today. It's FREE!
Find out what the world’s most innovative companies are doing to improve productivity in their plants and distribution centers.
Start your FREE subscription today!

Article Topics

Casebook · Casebook 2017 · Inventory · Lucas Systems · · All Topics
Latest Whitepaper
Solving the Labor Shortage Crisis: The Four Benefits of an Automated Warehouse
Not enough warehouse staff? Finding it difficult to keep up with orders during peak periods?
Download Today!
From the March 2018 Modern Materials Handling Issue
Here’s how one of the world’s largest 3PLs is looking to tomorrow’s innovative technologies, including heads-up display and robotics, to transform its operations today.
Conveyors & sortation: Carrying the e-commerce burden
2018 Productivity Achievement Awards
View More From this Issue
Subscribe to Our Email Newsletter
Sign up today to receive our FREE, weekly email newsletter!
Latest Webcast
Emerging Technologies for Your Distribution Center
Come get an insider's view of the latest technologies for inside your Distribution Center. You'll learn which technologies are being piloted, which are having success and moving from concept to implementation and into production on the maturity scale, and what's coming on the horizon.
Register Today!
NextGen Supply Chain at DHL
Here’s how one of the world’s largest 3PLs is looking to tomorrow’s innovative technologies,...
Trinchero Family Estates: Pallet handling in the vineyard
The second-largest family-owned wine company in the world turns to automated pallet handling and...

System Report: Rocky Brands Sees the Light
Confronting an aging materials handling system and new channels of business with new customer...
Lodge Manufacturing: Distribution Cast in Iron
In a new facility, iPhones and a new WMS allowed cookware manufacturer Lodge to double its business...