The ability to move product through the distribution center quickly and efficiently is crucial to enhancing warehouse productivity and streamlining distribution operations. A key driver of supply-chain efficiency is the timely delivery of data to the warehouse staff, retailers told SN.
A host of applications, including voice technology for order selection, warehouse management systems and inventory-control systems, are enabling wholesalers and retailers to improve the flow of information in the warehouse.
New warehouse-management systems that can support radio-based technology are becoming an industry standard and real-time information is necessary to stay competitive.
Roundy's, Pewaukee, Wis., launched a voice-technology pilot last month at one of its distribution centers, said John Paterson, vice president of distribution.
The voice technology, which consists of about 40 units, is being tested in an isolated grocery section of the Roundy's warehouse, Paterson told SN.
"We wanted it in an isolated and specific area to quantify the benefits," Paterson said, noting that the wholesaler is happy with the initial feedback from the units that allow for hands-free picking.
In recent months, retailers such as Kroger Co., Cincinnati, have expanded the use of voice technology for certain order selection tasks. Super Store Industries, Stockton, Calif., recently installed voice units to increase picking efficiency.
In addition to the voice units, Roundy's recently completed installation of a new warehouse-management system at nine of its distribution centers.
The warehouse-management systems are operational, according to the wholesaler.
Although it's still too early in the game to see any big benefits, the system has allowed the wholesaler to set labor standards, Paterson told SN.
"You usually don't get benefits right away," he said. "We do have standards available to us that are being controlled by the WMS and include fork standards, which we did not have prior to the system," Paterson added.
Supervalu, Minneapolis, is taking a comprehensive approach to keeping its distribution centers dynamic and fluid with the recent implementation of an inventory-control system and radio frequency scanning.
The new system at its Hopkins, Minn., facility has improved the wholesaler's inventory accuracy as well as reduced the time needed to make product available for sale, according to John Vegter, vice president of logistics for Supervalu's Northern region.
The new system provides the wholesaler with real-time inventory updates.
"In the past, if we received something on second shift, it wasn't keypunched [and available] until the next day. Now, if product comes into the warehouse, it is scanned and available [for sale] within an hour," Vegter told SN.
"We're still working out bugs," he added. " [But] what we have seen is improved inventory accuracy."
The wholesaler said it plans to roll out the new technology to its other distribution centers over the next two years.
"We were the pilot test [for the inventory-control system] and it has proven itself that it works and that it does improve inventory accuracy," Vegter said.
Associated Wholesale Grocers, Kansas City, Kan., is reportedly seeking to streamline its distribution operations with the installation of a new warehouse-management system at three of its Midwest facilities.
The system should allow the wholesaler to have real-time control over the distribution process at its Kansas City, Kan.; Springfield, Miss.; and Oklahoma City distribution centers, according to a source familiar with the situation.