Distributor improves workflow with voice-directed order picking

Minnesota-based distributor sees improvements in fill times, error rates and training.

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Patterson Companies is a distributor of dental and animal health supplies serving customers across North America and the United Kingdom. To improve efficiency and accuracy in its 14 fulfillment centers, the company replaced its existing paper-based order picking system with a voice-directed technology.

Patterson fills 25,000 orders each day, all of which are shipped on-demand. The company needed a solution that could speed up order fulfillment, reduce errors and shorten training time. The previous paper-based system, where workers typically picked 10 to 12 orders at a time, was prone to errors.

The solution (Honeywell) includes a small, hands-free headset paired with a wireless scanner. Workers are now able to scan items by speaking a voice command that activates the scanner when they are moving boxes. This functionality not only enhanced the worker experience, but also improved accuracy and performance. Order fillers were able to complete orders 25% faster, and their internal error rate dropped from 1 per 300 lines picked to 1 per 1,000. Training that had once taken weeks on a paper system dropped to hours.

“Our goal in this effort was to really build something productive and something we could replicate, and we ended up building something very special,” said Paul Courchene, distribution and logistics lead at Patterson Companies. “The whole project boiled down to the device working exactly the way we said it was going to work, and it became the device of the future for us.”

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About the Author
Josh Bond, Senior Editor
Josh Bond is Senior Editor for Modern, and was formerly Modern’s lift truck columnist and associate editor. He has a degree in Journalism from Keene State College and has studied business management at Franklin Pierce University.
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