Ice cream must be stored at 20 degrees below zero to retain optimum flavor and consistency. For warehouse workers, handling paper lists in such environments to check off orders is a challenge.
Ink pens freeze and pencils get brittle, making it difficult to make clear markings on order checklists. Keying in orders on a hand-held device while wearing gloves is all but impossible.
Most electronic devices designed to scan barcodes haven't proven reliable in such situations. Nonetheless, Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream Inc.'s plant in Chicago was looking for a solution to these problems when it found Vocollect Inc. of Pittsburgh, a producer of products that employ speech synthesis and voice recognition technology for warehousing and industrial applications.
Dreyer's tested Vocollect's Talkman system, a device worn by the user on a belt that transmits data to and from the facility's warehouse management system wirelessly by voice command. The warehouse management system transmits verbal commands through a headset worn by workers, instructing them where to locate merchandise and the quantities to select to fill each order.
Warehouse workers respond by voice to the commands through a microphone on the Talkman unit, informing the system when they have located and selected each item. Workers need no paper documents to select items; the warehouse management system produces the shipping and billing documents required for each order.
The test was successful enough to convince management at the Chicago location to adopt it as a permanent part of its system and to persuade the brass at Dreyer's Rockaway, N.J., distribution center to employ it as well.
Brad Adams, division logistics manager at Edy's Chicago facility, says the Talkman system increased productivity at the plant by 14 percent, in part because it allows a worker to fill several orders at a time during a single pass through the warehouse. Use of the Talkman decreased selection errors -- workers choosing the wrong item to fill an order -- by 50 percent, and paid for itself in less than a year.
"To stay warm in an ice cream freezer, you really have to keep moving," says Adams. "We picked by paper lists before, and we don't want to go back." How to reach: Vocollect Inc., www.vocollect.com; Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream Inc., www.dreyersinc.com