Night shift DC manager Rob Johnson has one word to describe the Jennifer voice-directed replenishment application at Ace Endico: “phenomenal.” What makes his choice of words interesting is that voice-directed replenishment doesn’t typically deliver the dramatic operational improvements that companies see from voice picking, where double-digit productivity gains and 50 percent or more accuracy improvements are the norm. The difference in Ace Endico’s case is how Lucas helped enforce operating procedures that led to wide-ranging improvements beyond better accuracy and productivity for replenishment staff.

Voice-Directed Truck Loading and Replenishment

As described in a recent case study, back in 2011 Ace Endico installed Jennifer voice for voice picking, and expanded to include voice-directed truck loading and replenishment.

The loading module helps eliminate loading errors and improves efficiency and safety since workers no longer need to look away to read terminal screens; these are fairly universal benefits of eyes- and hands-free operations with voice. The loading teams are “more productive and more accountable,” says Johnson. In addition, the loading module helps Ace Endico track other assets sent out on the delivery trucks such as pallets for back hauls or products being returned to vendors. In all, these are fairly typical improvements you see with voice-directed loading using Jennifer.

By contrast, Lucas’s voice-directed replenishment module generated gains above and beyond the operational gains you would normally see from giving workers a hands- and eyes-free process. To understand why, it’s useful to understand what they were doing before voice.

Ace Endico Replaces RF-Based Replenishment

With their previous RF-based replenishment process, let-down workers at Ace Endico would not completely refill the pick locations with the maximum amount of stock possible. As a result, stock-outs of primary picking locations were frequent during the overnight picking shift. This meant that order selectors spent more time picking from reserve locations, which impacted their productivity. Likewise, managers and clerks had to spend time investigating and correcting each of these “drops.” Worse still, workers and supervisors on the night shift spent more than 10 man-hours per shift doing let-downs.

Since moving to voice-directed replenishment with Lucas, let-down workers on the night turn are required to fill slots to capacity. As a result, order selectors on the night shift have fewer shorts, which means they don’t waste time picking from reserve locations. A single worker on the night shift now spends about 3 hours per night doing let-downs, and shift supervisors spend less time investigating drops. Those are all significant, indirect benefits that translate into real bottom-line benefit for selectors, other workers, managers, and Ace Endico’s customers.

There’s a broader lesson in this story. When thinking about voice, most people consider only the direct operational benefits they can get from changing to an eyes- and hands-free process. But when you look for ways to use voice to make fundamental process changes, you can often identify dramatic up- and down-stream benefits. Those “hidden” benefits sometimes have far greater value than simply voice-enabling an existing process. Or, to borrow Rob’s word, that’s how you go from good to phenomenal.

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