Lifting Warehouse Productivity with Voice-enabled Stock Picking

Couche-Tard’s Laval distribution center implements voice technology for pickup. gains were 14% in the first month alone. voice recognition allows gains of up to 35% in the first year.

See how voice-directed work helped Couche-Tard achieve a 14% productivity gain in the first month.

voice recognition voice directed work voice picking exa speakeasy ivanti vocollect pick to voice
Credit: Pierre Bündock

Couche-Tard operates a network of more than 2,000 convenience stores in Canada, from the Maritimes to Western Canada, primarily under the Couche-Tard® and Mac’s® brands. The company also operates thousands of stores under the Circle K brand in the US, Europe, and other parts of the world.

Download Caste Study here on Voice Picking solution!

Couche-Tard’s 650 stores in Quebec are served by a single distribution center located in Laval. The distribution center houses more than 3,000 SKUs across a wide range of perishable and non-perishable products and is responsible for providing three scheduled deliveries to each store every two weeks.

The director of the distribution center, Luc Frappier, comments: “Our whole business in Quebec depends on our distribution center operating efficiently and effectively. We pride ourselves on the speed and accuracy of our logistics, and the ability to pick the right SKUs from the warehouse to ship to each store is at the heart of everything we do. We are always looking to find innovative ways to shave even a few seconds off each pick, because even tiny improvements add up to significant benefits for the company as a whole.”

Here’s the case study on YouTube

Jimmy, one of the picker has both hands free for picking

As part of this drive for innovation, Couche-Tard decided to replace its clipboard-and-label-gun-based warehouse processes with a solution based on wearable mobile computers from Zebra. The devices connect to the company’s existing warehouse management system via Ivanti Terminal Emulation, powered by Wavelink. “The savings on paper alone were significant,” says Benjamin Carmel, Operations and Transport Manager at Couche-Tard. “Just by getting rid of the labels we used before we saved $36,000 per year, and we’ve reduced our impact on the environment, too. The success of the move to wearable technology gave us an even greater appetite for innovation.”

Seizing the opportunity with both hands

Introducing wearable technology was a significant step forward for Couche-Tard, not only because it introduced efficiencies that allowed the company to reduce costs, but also because it freed pickers from carrying clipboards and label-guns around the warehouse as they worked. Frappier comments: “To pick items quickly and effectively, it definitely helps if you can use both hands. The less paraphernalia our employees must carry with them, the faster and more accurate they can be.”

  However, although the Zebra devices can be mounted on users’ wrists, they didn’t allow for completely hands-free operation. Pickers still had to view the screen and push buttons on the devices to receive instructions and confirm their picks.

Carmel says: “We knew at the time that a voice-activated solution would be ideal, but all the options we looked at were very expensive and difficult to integrate with our existing systems. We didn’t want to have to install a separate picking module and voice server, or replace any of our existing infrastructure or devices. We’re very happy with the rest of our warehouse management systems—we just wanted a voice-enablement layer that we could integrate seamlessly on top.”

The Voice Picking Solution, powered by Ivanti and EXA Systems

“Ivanti Speakeasy simply sits on top of our existing platform and runs entirely on our wearable devices, with no need to install a separate voice server or make changes to our warehouse management system,” says Frappier. “Effectively it converts the text from our existing interface into speech, so the user doesn’t need to look at their screen to get the next instruction. It also allows them to speak into a headset instead of tapping commands into the device, so they can now do most aspects of their work completely hands-free.” — Luc Frappier, DC manager.

Stock picking at the user’s command

When EXA Systems, Couche-Tard’s long-term technology partner, introduced the distribution center team to Ivanti Speakeasy, it soon became clear that this was the solution that Couche-Tard had been looking for. Francis Joannette, VP Sales at EXA Systems, comments: “Here at EXA Systems, we have been delivering successful voice-automation projects for clients for more than 20 years, and we are familiar with all the major vendors and technologies on the market. We had a good understanding of Couche-Tard’s challenges and knew they were keen to further optimize their environment”.

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