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Thomas Ridley deploys voice in warehouse

By Retail Technology | Monday July 1 2013

New management system achieves major performance benefits for UK-based foodservice distributor

Thomas Ridley Foodservice is realising major performance improvements and savings of more than £175,000 per annum following a major investment in an Accord voice-directed warehouse management system (WMS) from supply chain software and WMS specialist, Business Computer Projects (BCP).

Founded 200 years ago, the family owned business based in East Anglia has grown to become one of the UK’s leading independent delivered wholesalers. 

It uses its own fleet of 45 temperature controlled vehicles to provide a multi-temperature delivery service to caterers across England with a product range of chilled, ambient, frozen professional hygiene and catering sundries. Customers include schools, hospitals, pubs and restaurants, care and residential homes, and the leisure sector. 

Committed to delivering the best possible customer service, the investment in voice was prompted by Thomas Ridley’s expanding customer base. In particular, there was a desire to increase accuracy in order to improve the customer experience, ease out of stocks and reduce the costs associated with rectifying incorrect deliveries. 

Automating paper-based procedures

Although using computerised stock control and radio frequency (RF) scanning for goods receiving, manual, paper-based procedures were still in use for other warehouse operations. 

Though efficient, these procedures were still subject to human error – a significant factor for an operation the size of Thomas Ridley, where 1,000 deliveries per day are assembled from over 10,000 different stock-keeping units (SKUs). 

The company decided to invest in Accord Voice WMS with Vocollect T5 hardware for all warehouse operations from putaway, through picking and replenishment, to stocktaking and perpetual inventory. 

BCP worked closely with Thomas Ridley’s in-house IT team to phase the system in over the course of a 12-month period, starting in the most complex department – frozen goods – followed by the chilled department and finally, the largest of the three departments, ambient goods. 

Transforming warehouse operations

Once checked in by RF scanning, goods in the 100,000 square-foot warehouse are now managed entirely by voice, with 65 workers using the system.

“Accord voice has transformed operations,” said Justin Godfrey, Thomas Ridley managing director, “more than living up to our expectations.”

Increased accuracy has been one of the biggest benefits, with picking errors now virtually eliminated and service levels running at more than 99.99%. The company has been able to dispense with an expensive manual order checking operation and conservatively estimates direct savings of £150,000 p.a. from reduction in mis-picks. 

“It’s phenomenal,” reported Godfrey, “we’ve virtually eradicated all errors and that leads to very happy customers – a massive intangible benefit we just can’t measure.”

Maximising productivity improvements

Productivity has also improved as workers have benefited from the hands-free nature of voice, allowing them to focus fully on their work. Direct interaction with the WMS removes the need to visit the office to collect new assignments. More accurate, real-time stock information, which minimises re-picks and time spent exploring stock inconsistencies, has also contributed to an increase in productivity of around 10%. 

“Moreover, the system allows us to analyse individual worker productivity,” explained Godfrey, “meaning we can spot any potential bottlenecks, address any issues and schedule operations more efficiently.”

There have also been major stationery and administration savings, as the use of paper lists and associated tasks such as printing and distributing lists and re-keying picking confirmations and order amendments have been removed.

Building on business benefits

Overall Thomas Ridley estimates a 10% saving in labour costs and training of new workers is now much faster, allowing them to become productive much more quickly.

Godfrey concluded: “The use of Accord Voice across our warehouse has transformed operations, delivering even greater improvements and savings than we’d dreamed of. We now have full visibility and an accurate audit trail across the warehouse and I believe we now have the lowest cost of labour per unit of sale within the foodservice industry. 

"We’re expecting to realise even greater efficiencies as we use the data we’re gathering from the system to re-lay the warehouse to optimise both the use of space and movements within it.”

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