Retail Solutions - Two supermarket giants opt for voice-picking technology

Use of voice picking technology to streamline warehouse operations is now being rolled out by two of Europe's leading supermarket chains.

In the UK, Somerfield, which announced a trial of voice picking systems with Wincanton last year, is now rolling the technology out across all its regional distribution centres. In France, Systeme U Ouest, with about 320 stores, is implementing Aldata's GOLD Vocal in two further warehouses, following a successful three-month trial.

After initial trials at its Tewksbury depot, Somerfield opted for a year-long full-scale pilot at its Pitreavie distribution centre near Dunfermline, which is operated by Wincanton. This demonstrated significant improvements in pro- ductivity and made many procedures paperless. Wincanton is using technology from Vox-Ware with a wireless network throughout the depot.

Staff are equipped with headsets and are given verbal instructions as to their picking list. Once at the correct line they speak a check code to confirm the products being picked. When the task is completed the system speaks the next item on the pick list and operators move on.

Systeme U Ouest started its voice project last November, with the pilot warehouse going live in February this year. GOLD Vocal has been integrated with the retailer's Aldata warehouse management system and 50 Talkman devices, supplied by VoCognition, are being used by warehouse staff. Initial problems centred on lack of clear vocal understanding.

'Operators must be monitored in the first few days of voice operation,' says Michel Le Grouyere. 'Their vocabulary might have been badly recorded and the operator can be forced to repeat the word several times. A relearning phase is necessary.'

Systeme U Ouest is equipping two more of its nine warehouses with the voice devices and plans to convert all sites to voice picking by the end of next year, with 600 Talkman devices used by 1,200 staff.