PITTSBURGH -- Officials at Giant Eagle here said they are anticipating a chainwide rollout of a state-of-the-art, voice-activated, hands-free order picking system.
Larry Baldauf, senior vice president of distribution and logistics, Giant Eagle, told SN the chain began using the belt-worn Talkman T2 by Vocollect, also here, seven weeks ago at its Harmony, Pa., warehouse.
He said the chain was so pleased with the results that it now plans to speed up implementation of the system at its Bedford Heights, Ohio, warehouse.
Bedford Heights was originally scheduled to implement the Talkman system sometime after Jan. 1. Now, Baldauf said that facility will begin using it this month.
Moreover, Baldauf said Giant Eagle will roll out the Talkman system to its three remaining distribution centers in the future. The chain, consisting of 204 stores, has a warehouse here and in Youngstown, Ohio, and Washington, Pa.
"The improvement we saw in accuracy [for order picking] was so great we wanted to get it into another facility sooner," Baldauf said.
The Talkman T2 is a fourth-generation system that warehouse order-pickers wear on their belts. Via wireless radio frequency, the device communicates with the warehouse management system's (WMS) software.
When order-pickers talk into the device, the voice communication is translated into digital data that is inputted into the WMS. The system's response is then translated from data to a voice response back to the order-picker.
Thus pickers receive step-by-step instructions on precisely how to go about filling orders in the warehouse.
Baldauf said he was not at liberty to reveal the cost of implementing the new system.
However, a spokesman for Vocollect said the list price for one Talkman T2 unit is $5,000. He declined to give more details.
Baldauf said Giant Eagle purchased about 50 Talkman units for the Harmony, Pa., warehouse and will probably need to buy about 150 for the larger Bedford Heights facility.
Besides the Talkman units, new WMS software has to be installed to communicate with the new system and RF hardware.
Baldauf said that due to the improved accuracy and production from order-pickers, Giant Eagle anticipates about an eight-month time frame for a return on its initial investment.
Moreover, Baldauf said that by using this new system there has also been a marked improvement in mis-selects and out-of-stocks.
Additionally, the new system also eliminates the need for a tremendous amount of paperwork and the need for any warehouse labeling.
With the new system, all bins in the warehouse are identified by using a three-digit number. Pickers punch this number into the Talkman when they go to fill an order to ensure accuracy. The WMS acknowledges if the order picking is selecting the right product to fulfill the order.
But perhaps, according to Baldauf, one of the more significant advantages of the Talkman comes from the added enjoyment the order-pickers get from their jobs in the warehouse.
"Our guys in the warehouse love them [the Talkman]," Baldauf said. "It's hands-free and they aren't as lonely using it."