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Winterbotham Darby raises its voice

Redhill, Surrey, UK: Winterbotham Darby has installed voice picking at its warehouse. The system is supported by Chess Logistics Technology and enhanced an existing RF solution.

Jon Gore, warehouse operations manager, Winterbotham Darby says: “We had a number of operational specific requirements that we wanted to achieve using voice and, after considering a number of options, concluded Chess had the most robust solution and ease of implementation to meet our objectives.”
 
In 2008 Winterbotham Darby implemented the Empirica Warehouse Management System from Chess which offered greater operational specification including automatic generation of pallet manifests, SSCC pallet labels, delivery documentation, ASNs and load manifests along with the opportunity to evolve and configure the system as the business and customer requirements changed. This also enabled the company to continue to utilise the existing RF equipment which made the justification and ROI for Empirica an easy decision for the business.
 
In 2011 Winterbotham Darby implemented a voice direction solution to enhance and improve its picking efficiency as significant changes had been implemented for one of their key customers early in 2010. It identified voice technology as an ideal enabler and selected an enhanced version of the Empirica application which incorporates multilingual and adaptive language capability after visiting reference sites and assessing its options during 2010.
 
The benefits to the business were immediate as the voice picking solution provides operatives with instructions through a headset to which they issue spoken response to confirm actions. The system can accommodate any language and removed the requirement to constantly pick up and put down the RF device during picking. They also removed eight key strikes for every pick face visited and offered safety benefits because operatives now have both hands free at all times.
 
“I saw significant changes immediately to the picking operation and efficiency,” says Jon Gore. “The benefits to our business and customer have been 100% pick accuracy due to the count back functionality and no human errors in the data we exchanged which includes catch-weights.”
 
The core Empirica WMS controls all common functions for the operation such as receipts, stock control and order picking. It also provides interfaces and integration with other business systems such as order processing, removing the need for orders to be manually keyed. Additional functionality such as the RF and voice capability is provided by specialist modules and, in the case of voice direction, by a unique dialogue design to maximise the efficiency of the technology. This model enables simple and rapid deployment.
 
Winterbotham Darby’s internal team looked at processes, tasks and data to see how these and other factors would be affected by voice. All voice picking locations were then relabelled to make them more user-friendly. Check digits, for example, are now numbers rather than letters to simplify voice recognition. The company installed a large monitor in the picking area to provide real-time information on workloads remaining and operative progress.
 
The implementation was managed to ensure a smooth transition. A trial conducted with a single set of equipment assessed user acceptance and identified training and support requirements. Feedback proved invaluable during the final configuration and roll-out. The voice technology was introduced two sets at a time with additional users added every couple of days. This allowed the in-house team to deal with training and operational issues and support the operatives moving to the system. In total 10 sets of equipment were installed over a two-week period.
 
“Having visited reference sites we expected an increase in picking rates somewhere between 10 to 15 per cent but we have achieved in excess of this,” says Jon Gore. “The improvements made by all of the operatives have been impressive.”
 
Chess has provided support during each evolution of the system. Its business and technical teams have worked closely with counterparts at Winterbotham Darby, including time on site, to ensure a close working relationship. Day-to-day and out of hours support is provided by email and telephone.