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The heat is on for cold store order picking

12 December 2012

Grocery retailers will soon expect efficient small order picking in cold stores.An efficient way to deliver this is to use voice directed technology argues John Harper, sales application manager,Dematic Now that the p

Grocery retailers will soon expect efficient small order picking in cold stores.An efficient way to deliver this is to use voice directed technology argues John Harper, sales application manager,Dematic

Now that the public's perception of frozen food is changing and with sales growing significantly over the last few years, it is only a matter of time before all the bigger grocery retailers will be expecting their suppliers to deploy the same efficient small order picking techniques in their cold stores that they use for their ambient and chilled products.

This is sure to be a challenge for cold store operations that are used to dealing with full pallets and who are already suffering with higher energy and labour costs. But there are big opportunities for those suppliers that can quickly adapt their order fulfillment procedures and add more value to the service they provide to their customers.

There will inevitably be requirements to pick cartons from a pick-face instead of entire pallets and a need to assemble carton-based orders from those picks. It will apply across the product range. This can be a service that is difficult and expensive to provide for some operators.

The problems with picking mixed case orders from a cold store pick face are numerous: WMS unable to cope with this type of picking without expensive modifications.

Order printers have to be kept in heated enclosures or outside the cold environment.

Pickers in thick clothing and gloves find it difficult to use paper and pencil or to press keys on a hand-held scanning terminal.

Expensive specialist hand-held scan guns are required to work in those temperatures - often the equipment will work in the cold store but cannot be taken back into the warmer environment without condensation damage.

It can be dangerous to have pickers walking around reading pick sheets and screens where pallet trucks are in use.

Scanners can frost-over.

Picking is a slow cumbersome operation.

With many pick systems there is very little visibility of pick progress and efficiency, there is a need for greater transparency.

Voice directed work (especially picking) can solve these issues. Dematic's Voice+ system can use middleware such as Vocollect's VoiceLink to interface quickly and cheaply with the host WMS and can import pick assignments and export the pick results back again to keep WMS stock control virtually "live". The WMS operation will be unaffected except that the picking will be carried out outside of its parameters. This faster stock control can also help drive a more efficient replenishment regime which in turn leads to more accurate ordering. Other benefits include: No paper is required for voice picking but cage/pallet labels can be produced by the voice system if required.

Pickers wear a small voice terminal over or under their clothes and have the pick list read to them via a headset. They can verify they have picked the correct product and quantities by voice. This leaves them hands-free and eyes-free with no pens to use or buttons to press.

The voice hardware is designed to work in a -30 deg C environment and will not be damaged by constant changes in temperature and humidity. The equipment can be stored inside or outside the cold store when not in use.

With their eyes free from looking at paper lists or hand-held screens the working environment is much safer for pedestrian pickers - especially when pallet movements are voice directed too.

Order picking can be carried out almost as fast as in an ambient environment and the usual gains in efficiency and accuracy will be delivered.

VoiceLink will provide total transparency of the pick operation, who is doing what and where, which orders are remaining to be picked, which orders are currently being picked and how far through they are, and which orders have been picked when the day's work will be done.

A dashboard on the Voice system can provide a graphical overall picture of up to the second picking progress.

VoiceLink can also direct putaway and replenishment pallet movements by voice too in the same way that it can take over the picking operation. FLT drivers can be told verbally via a headset which locations to go to and they can verify the location ID, pallet ID and destination location ID all by voice. As well as providing much more efficient pallet movements this also creates a much safer working environment as drivers will always be looking where they are going as they will no longer have paper lists or screens to consult/operate while they are driving.