The aims of distribution are the same today as they were 100 years ago: The general process of placing the order, shipping the right product, in the right quantity, at the right time, and to the right destination, hasn’t changed. However the distribution centres (DCs) themselves have changed dramatically, particularly over recent years.
Today’s DCs are dealing with the increasing complexity of proliferating products and channels, late-stage customisation requirements, more temperature controlled environments (cold chain, frozen etc.), and higher warehouse employee turnover.
Customer service expectations have also increased and as a result, a greater percentage of products are picked by either the “each,” the “case,” or the “layer”, in the modern warehouse. Order cycle times are shrinking at the same time as there is pressure to reduce costs, while not affecting customer service levels.
This need to meet customer expectations, along with the complexities in the order fulfilment process, means it is more challenging than ever to avoid errors. However due to the expectations of today’s consumers, accuracy has never been more important.
Voice-directed picking is of significant benefit to DCs seeking shorter delivery times and improved accuracy. If your DC could benefit from accuracy rates up to 99.995 per cent, along with productivity increases of around10 to 25 per cent, then voice-enabled processes will be of considerable benefit to your business.
Voice is easy to use and training takes just hours instead of weeks. Within 15 minutes, voice technology learns individual worker’ accents and unique speech characteristics. The worker is then ready to be directed through each step of the work assignment.
Typically voice systems enforce order accuracy through the use of random check digits. The check digits in most cases are placed directly above or below the product and must be read when a worker is at the appropriate picking location. The system won’t allow the worker to continue to the next picking location unless they read the appropriate digits. This can achieve up to 99.995 per cent accuracy. Voice technology uses a rugged headset (which can also be used in cold storage environments) to direct workers in the DC, avoiding the need to rely on a handheld device display, paper label, or pick list, all of which can be misread.
Distribution centres that stand to benefit most from increased accuracy through the integration of Voice technology are those that face one or more of the following workflow challenges:
High-cost, perishable, or regulated merchandise – Even a few shipping errors associated with high-cost, perishable or regulated goods can significantly affect profitability. Expensive luxury items such as designer clothes, accessories (purses, watches, etc.) and electronics; frozen or chilled meats, dairy, fruits, and vegetables; temperature-controlled drugs and medicines; government-regulated items, such as pharmaceuticals, must be accurately shipped and tightly tracked throughout the supply chain to avoid costly mistakes and errors.
High error rates – High customer order error rates, customer claims and refunds, and internal error rates (for example, products in the wrong storage location, products in the wrong pick slot, or empty pick slots) indicate that the current system is not performing adequately. In today’s business environment, a business with high DC error rates won’t succeed in the long-term. Deploying a voice-enabled workflow solution optimises processes to improve accuracy.
Just-in-time shipments – When the correct item must be shipped for immediate or just-in-time use, accuracy is paramount. For example the service parts business for automobile and equipment manufacturers usually depends on the supply chain delivering the right part to repair a customer’s automobile or a critical piece of production machinery. In other instances where just-in-time parts feed an assembly line, late or incorrect parts can bring manufacturing to a halt.
Importantly for Australian and New Zealand DC operators, increased order fulfilment accuracy not only leads to fewer returns and higher levels of customer satisfaction, but it also supports the ongoing profitability of the DC. When a product doesn’t need to be returned and reshipped, DC transportation costs drop along with customer complaints. Labour costs are also reduced, because fewer products need to be received, put away, stored and shipped for a second time. Improvements in all these crucial areas contribute significantly to ongoing DC productivity and company profitability.
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