Cold cuts Featured

5:34am EDT August 31, 2004
Burris Logistics Inc. was hunting for a way to increase accuracy at its distribution facilities and found a process that stops errors cold. As a bonus, it got a boost in productivity.

Burris Logistics, headquartered in Milford, Del., operates a network of warehouses in 13 locations throughout the eastern United States, comprising more than 50 million cubic feet of refrigerated and freezer space. Each warehouse has the ability to develop custom storage and transportation solutions to meet the needs of the retail, wholesale, and manufacturing customers it serves.

After accuracy at its Federalsburg, Md., distribution center increased to 99.88 percent and productivity improved by 11.9 percent following the implementation of Pittsburgh-based Vocollect Inc.'s voice-directed distribution solution, Burris plans to standardize all of its warehouse operations -- more than 50 million square feet of refrigerated storage in 13 facilities, including one in Lancaster, Pa. -- onto the integrated Vocollect system.

The integrated voice-directed distribution system is built on Vocollect's industrial speech recognition technology and the Talkman wearable voice computer. Talkman is a voice-directed system of software and wearable computers that allows warehouse workers to send and receive information to a back office system. It allows hands-free operation, relieving workers from using pick lists to select merchandise.

An automated system relays verbal instructions to the worker regarding which items to select and where to locate them in a warehouse, and prompts them to respond by voice to verify that they have made the correct selections.

"One of the system's biggest advantages is access to real-time information that allows us to deal with issues immediately and get ahead of operational snags such as out-of-stocks," says Ed Krupka, vice president of Burris Information Technology. "It makes a huge difference in our ability to keep people and products moving throughout the facility."

Jack LeVan, president and CEO of Vocollect, notes that a growing number of leading third- party logistics providers recognize voice as a proven way to compete more effectively and profitably.

"The third-party logistics industry is extremely demanding and competitive," LeVan says. "Companies like Burris Logistics know they must deliver superior service at the lowest possible cost for their customers, while generating solid and consistent profits on their operations.

In an industry in which customer service is paramount, says Ed Givens, vice president of distribution at Federalsburg, voice-directed technology gives the company an added edge by replacing slow, error-prone paper- and sticker-based order selection systems, and provides equipment that operates in temperatures as low as 20 degrees below zero.

The Federalsburg site was tapped for the pilot project, which went live in April, because it is Burris' highest-performing facility. The improvement in accuracy at the Federalsburg location alone, according to Burris, translates into 9,000 fewer case errors a year, along with the savings of time and money that would have been spent dealing with them.

Equally important, employees' ability to work without pick lists and labels increased productivity, drastically cutting yearly labor costs.

"The savings add up fast in a number of areas, along with the return on investment," Krupka says. "We expect to hit payback on our voice system in only 10 months."

Burris Logistics plans to use the Vocollect technology not only in all of its facilities, but also apply it to multiple functions within its overall operations.

"Once we fully implement voice for order picking, we will be ready to deploy it for receiving, put-away, replenishment and other applications that Vocollect can provide to us," Krupka says. "We've pledged total integration and versatility to mold our services to our customers' needs across the food distribution supply chain.

"Vocollect has the technology to help us do just that."

HOW TO REACH: Vocollect Inc., www.vocollect.com; Burris Logistics Inc., www.burrislogistics.com.