Upping the Health of Distribution Center (DC) Picking

With a voice-directed picking solution, Baptist Health South Florida gained big on throughput and accuracy, while offering workers an intuitive user interface.

With a voice-directed picking solution, Baptist Health South Florida gained big on throughput and accuracy, while offering workers an intuitive user interface.

The logistics of health care isn’t just about raw efficiency, it’s about providing better care by delivering supplies where and when needed without taking up extra space at hospitals and clinics to store supplies.

This requires solid order picking processes and technologies at the DC level to keep the flow of needed items coming on a just-in-time basis, known in health care logistics as a lowest unit of measure (LUM) approach.

Baptist Health South Florida is an internationally recognized healthcare network and one of the largest not-for-profit healthcare providers in the region. Headquartered in Coral Gables, Fla., the Baptist Health network includes 12 hospitals and more than 150 physician practices and outpatient facilities spanning four counties.

In 2015, Baptist Health adopted a self-distribution strategy with a central DC serving its facilities to contain supply chain costs, reduce the amount of space used for inventory at hospitals, and ultimately, help provide better care.

Initially, it used paper pick lists, but quickly realized this was not sustainable and began looking for alternatives including a voice-directed picking and work optimization solution (Lucas Systems) to efficiently and accurately process orders headed to their many sites. The DC has approximately 10,000 SKUs needing rapid fulfillment under LUM, with the goal of next-day delivery for items ordered by 3 p.m.

Baptist chose to implement the Lucas Warehouse Optimization Suite to address these needs. The suite is powered through artificial intelligence (AI) software that optimizes pick paths and assignments and executes the picks using Jennifer, Lucas’s voice software and orchestration engine.

“Our goal was to reduce the amount of manual work required for picking and other inventory operations,” says Juan Serrato, assistant vice president of supply chain informatics.

Since implementing the suite, Baptist leadership has not been disappointed. “We’ve seen tremendous efficiency gains, elimination of all paper and extremely high throughput in terms of picking,” Serrato adds.

The benefits included have included a three-fold increase in pick rate versus the previous manual process, as well as a picking accuracy rate of 99.95%. Additionally, the productivity of bulk picks increased by 20% with the new system, while inventory accuracy is up by 20% to 30% by location.

The solution uses voice commands and simple voice-based “check digit” confirmations to ensure picks are accurate, while optimizing pick paths to reduce non-valued added travel. Additionally, use of voice headsets keeps the workers hands-free to handle and pick goods.

The overall result is a fast and accurate picking process, supporting the Baptist Health’s LUM approach to getting goods to where they are needed to support patient care.

Dale Adamson, assistant vice president of supply chain services, says: “Voice-to-pick was our starting point for this organization. Once we implemented it, our productivity increased dramatically. Prior to Lucas, we used to pick somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 to 80 lines per hour, and now we have people that are reaching 150.”

Beyond the efficiency gains, the voice-based system and its ease of learning helped with operational continuity and reliability during the pandemic.

“With Covid, we had people out repeatedly, and they were out for an extended period of time. We had no choice but to contract temporary labor to fill the gaps. It’s easy with Lucas because everything is voice-driven. If we had to go manual or use pen and paper, the onboarding process would have taken a lot longer.” -  Adamson

Because voice-directed processes are more intuitive for users, most Lucas customers find a new associate can be trained and begin going solo in less than a day. This presents an advantage when labor availability is at a premium, as certainly happened during the pandemic. Additionally, the voice recognition software for the solution functioned as intended, even with DC staff wearing masks.

Benjamin Stilley, a member of the Baptist replenishment team, agrees the system has enabled a highly productive why of working. “[Jennifer] has enabled us to have better productivity, so we’re picking faster, we’re distributing faster,” he says. “And in a time of need for our organization, we couldn’t have done it without Jennifer to be honest. We simply would not have been able to keep up with the volume.”

Serrato concludes that the deployment and the support from Lucas aligns with Baptist’s core mission. “We pride ourselves in providing the best patient care possible, and having the right material in the right place at the right time is essential to that patient care,” he says. “Lucas helps us do that.