When Frontier Distributing set out to modernize its DC operations five years ago, company leaders knew they’d first need to tackle the labor-intensive manual picking process they had used for years. The specialty distributor of pet foods and supplies wanted to increase efficiency and improve picking accuracy, allowing it to enhance service to its more than 700 specialty retail customers in the Midwest.
“We were a very paper-intensive organization. Every day, we had stacks of paper over a foot tall on desks in the distribution center,” Mark Smith, company founder and president, said in a prepared statement. “We relied on paper pick-tickets, which had to be separated by zones. It was a very labor-intensive and time-intensive process. Not to mention that this process made it easy to make mistakes and lower our accuracy rate.”
Frontier Distributing turned to voice automation solutions provider Voxware to solve the problem and today is reaping the rewards of a voice picking system that’s not only more efficient and accurate, but is also improving employees’ experience as well as streamlining the onboarding process for new hires.
The partners had to tackle a few initial challenges before implementing the system Frontier had chosen, Voxware’s cloud-based Voice Management Suite. The first was to make sure the system could integrate with the distributor’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. The second was to install a wireless network throughout the DC, which includes 60,000 square feet of space for perishable goods, two additional zones for hard goods, and a freezer for raw goods. With those steps behind them, Frontier was off and running with the new picking technology and almost immediately saw results. General manager Jacob Smith says accuracy improved to 99.9%, an especially important metric for Frontier’s customers, many of whom lack the space to keep extra inventory on hand, increasing their reliance on complete, on-time orders.
“That figure is tremendous, because many of our customers don’t have the ability to stock large storage rooms,” Smith said in a statement posted on Voxware’s website. “If one of our customers doesn’t get their order, it’s a big deal to them.”
Frontier Distributing also implemented Voxware’s supply chain analytics solution called VoxPilot, which allows the company to better manage staff and continually improve the picking process. The system gives managers visibility into employees’ daily activity, allowing them to monitor progress, productivity, and other metrics. Managers can then act on that data to improve picking routes or make other changes that enhance employees’ experience in the DC. An unexpected benefit: improving the training process for new hires. Wearing a Voxware headset, new employees can tune in to what an experienced employee is hearing as he or she works their way through the picking process—giving them a hands-on, instantaneous experience.
“The amount of time it takes to get a new employee trained up has been much [shorter] than in the past,” Josh Strangway, fleet facility supervisor at Frontier Distributing, said in the statement. “We can get a headset on them and have them ride around with a more experienced worker to learn how and what is being said to get them working almost instantaneously.”