SOFTWARE ENABLES KVAT TO PICK BETTER

ABINGDON, Va. -- KVAT Food Stores is one of the first retailers to use new software designed to save time and money during the installation of a voice-enabled picking system.The chain, which operates 87 stores under the Food City name, used QuickPick software from Pittsburgh-based Vocollect to set up 100 Talkman T2 terminals in its warehouse here.The Talkman is a wireless, voice-activated device worn

ABINGDON, Va. -- KVAT Food Stores is one of the first retailers to use new software designed to save time and money during the installation of a voice-enabled picking system.

The chain, which operates 87 stores under the Food City name, used QuickPick software from Pittsburgh-based Vocollect to set up 100 Talkman T2 terminals in its warehouse here.

The Talkman is a wireless, voice-activated device worn on a picker's belt.

It provides detailed picking instructions via voice response, leaving the worker's hands free.

According to Paul Widener, distribution systems manager for KVAT, all dry, perishables and deli operations are currently online.

He expects to begin the process with health and beauty care and produce in early 2002. The entire process, including training, took about three weeks, he said. The implementation was completed in September.

"It's a modular implementation," he said. "It can be plugged in with very little effort."

The QuickPick system streamlines the process by using a standardized dialogue to communicate between the terminals and the order-generating systems of any given warehouse.

Rather than creating that data from scratch, at the outset of each operation, the software works with a uniform language that has already been defined, cutting out a step in the implementation. Order-selection systems don't vary a great deal between companies, Widener said, and the QuickPick system offers a good, standard package.

According to a spokesman at Vocollect, the software reduces the overall cost of installing the Talkman system by two-thirds to three-quarters.

The software makes it easier to connect to the main warehouse management system.

Widener did not divulge the cost of KVAT's installation, although he did say he expects to see a return on the initial investment within seven months or less.

The integration process was a very simple one overall, Widener added. It required only a minimal expansion of the existing radio frequency network at the warehouse.

Vocollect builds the product around whatever radio vendor is being used, he said. If it's a Proxim network, the system will be built around Proxim cards.

While KVAT is one of the first to put the Talkman system in using the new software, Vocollect's voice-activated picking solution can be found in warehouses nationwide.

Other customers include Wal-Mart, Roundy's and Giant Eagle.

Increased accuracy was the major selling point for Widener.

"There are tremendous costs associated with mis-picks," Widener said. "Everybody knows what selection errors cost them."

The Talkman system has been responsible for a tremendous improvement in accuracy at his warehouse, Widener said.

"It provides a positive, verifiable, verbal confirmation from the selector that he is at the right location," he explained.

Indeed, 99% of selection errors may be attributed to simple human error, he said, and the Talkman never gets distracted.

In addition to the boost in accuracy, Widener has observed significant secondary benefits as well.

Productivity numbers are up somewhere between 5% and 10%, he told SN.

The operation has also seen a reduction in training time for new employees and makes for a safer and sounder workplace.