To improve picking operations, Dunkin’ Donuts leapfrogged bar code scanning, jumping from a paper-based solution to voice-directed picking.

Modern Materials Handling

What’s been the hottest automatic identification technology used to improve the productivity of order pickers in warehouses over the last few years?

If you guessed voice, you’re right. The advantage of hands-free picking can lead to significant efficiencies over traditional RF-directed picking, especially in carton and each picking operations.

That’s one of the reasons DunkinDonuts replaced a paper-based system with a voice-directed order picking system (Voxware) at its Mid-Atlantic distribution center in Westhampton, N.J. In fact, Dunkin’ bypassed bar code scanning altogether. The result: Double-digit productivity gains and increased accuracy. But beyond that, the donut maker has also seen a better, safer work environment, and a 50% drop in turnover.

In the initial stages, voice was used for three major tasks, in addition to order picking:

  1. The voice system directs order pickers through required safety inspections of lift trucks at the beginning of each shift.
  2. The voice system directs the in-sequence loading of completed pallet loads into over-the-road trucks.
  3. The system directs truck loaders through trailer inspections that must be completed before a truck is loaded.

The next stage included plans to voice-enable inventory putaway and replenishment. The idea: Just as voice enables hands-free picking, Dunkin’s lift truck operators saw an advantage in being able to drive with one hand, operate hydraulics with the other hand and just talk instead of scanning. Eventually, the facility managers would like to use voice technology to direct cycle counting and receiving, and to integrate the voice system with a yard management system.

But in addition to productivity improvements, voice is keeping turnover low by helping workers achieve the accuracy rates Dunkin’ Donuts demands. Training new employees is easier with the voice system than it was with the paper-based system.

Safety has been another key benefit of voice. Order pickers are no longer looking down at paper lists as they’re driving their pallet jacks, and that has dramatically reduced lift truck accidents and injuries, which has led to Dunkin having better workers’ compensation coverage.

Following the success of voice in the New Jersey facility, Dunkin’ rolled it out to three more DCs.

Modern Materials Handling