CINCINNATI -- Kroger here is bringing its sixth distribution center to the technology forefront with the addition of voice technology to assist in order selection, sources told SN.
Dillon Cos., Hutchinson, Kan., a subsidiary of Kroger, will go live with the voice technology at its Colorado Springs, Colo., distribution center June 6.
A Kroger executive wouldn't confirm the addition of the new technology at the DC, but said the information acquired by SN wasn't "inaccurate."
The voice technology enables order-selection data to be sent from a warehouse-management system to a radio frequency network that forwards the data for order picking to radio devices worn on belts, according to a source familiar with the situation.
The Walkman-like unit translates the data that originated from the WMS into speech instructions for the employee. The employee sends a voice message back through the system to confirm the pick and then receives instructions for the next pick.
The real-time communication makes for more accurate and efficient product picks as well as leaving two hands free for employees.
While the Colorado Springs DC will use the voice technology in real time, the system can also interface with an older batch WMS that does not have real-time capabilities. Kroger's warehouses in Louisville, Ky., and Indianapolis, Ind., are using the system in batch mode. Data from the warehouse-management system is downloaded to the voice system for orders to be picked the following day.
To use the system in batch mode requires software known as middleware to compile the pick data and coordinate the selection process.
The Colorado Springs facility will use 50 of the wearable voice units, a source said.
However, this is not the first time Kroger has implemented voice-picking technology at one of its warehouses.
In the fall of 1997, the retailer went live with 135 units in the freezer at its Columbus, Ohio, warehouse. In early 1998, 120 units were brought into a Memphis, Tenn., DC. A warehouse in Shelbyville, Ind., received 140 units in June of 1998 and a Louisville, Ky., DC added 45 units for its employees in August 1998.
Prior to the Colorado Springs facility, a Kroger distribution center in Indianapolis, Ind., was the most recent addition to receive the talking technology, with 75 of the voice-directed units going live in November of 1998.