A voice-directed picking system pushed Pep Boys’ warehouse efficiencies to the high double digits and produced an accuracy fill rate of 99.63%.
Maintaining a high level of warehouse efficiency is critical to the success of every retailer and company involved in the supply chain. Voice-directed pick technology has become the key to achieving this goal for auto aftermarket retailer and service chain Pep Boys.
Pep Boys has 593 stores in 36 states and Puerto Rico, more than 6,000 service bays, and total fiscal revenues of more than $2.1 billion. The retailer delivers more than 75 million items to its stores through five distribution centers around the nation. “Minimizing stock-outs is vital, and even small increases in efficiency lead to significant impact on the bottom line,” says Stuart Rosenfeld, VP of distribution.
Pep Boys used a variety of pick methods prior to deploying voice-directed technology, Rosenfeld explains. Initially, the retailer’s warehouse management system (WMS) would print out either tickets with pick lists or replenishment requests for workers to retrieve at a central location in each distribution center. However, such an approach was far from ideal: Workers would frequently misread tickets or neglect to fill entire orders, resulting in low order accuracy and periodic selection of the wrong parts.
To remedy this situation while improving efficiency and accuracy, Pep Boys first equipped its distribution center teams with handheld RF (radio frequency) scanners for assembling orders by capturing the bar code on each item. This method, too, proved problematic, as workers found it difficult to input item quantities using keystrokes.
A Quick Pilot Leads To Immediate Rollout
Eventually, management decided to seek alternatives to the RF scanners. A distribution team began researching different options and, in the process, visited several companies that had implemented voice-directed distribution, a solution from Vocollect. Based on positive feedback from these companies, Pep Boys agreed to conduct a two-month pilot test of the system in one warehouse, but the results collected during the initial few weeks sparked a decision to immediately roll out the technology to all five warehouses.
In preparation for the deployment, each warehouse employee recorded a voice template to capture his or her specific voice characteristics, and attended a one-hour on-site training session conducted by Vocollect personnel. With the new solution in place, all assignments for warehouse personnel are generated by Pep Boys’ WMS system, then transmitted via wireless LAN to handheld or wearable devices running Vocollect voice software. The software translates each assignment into speech commands that direct workers to a particular aisle/section and slot location. Team members confirm the given location by speaking a numeric identifier into their Vocollect SR Series speech recognition headsets. The system then issues verbal instructions, such as the quantity of product to be picked or a command to confirm the quantity of items replenished. When the task is complete, employees once again indicate how many items were removed from storage or put away and, in some cases, speak the last few digits of products’ item codes into their headsets for extra verification.
A 16% To 21% Increase In Productivity
Pep Boys executives say the technology has produced significant changes in warehouse efficiencies and yielded a full payback of six months. In terms of worker productivity, it has outperformed RF scanning by 16% and paper-based methods by 21%. “We expected productivity improvements of 12%, and we achieved them,” Rosenfeld notes. “But when we saw our picking accuracy rates increase to 99.63%, we were very surprised.”
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