2024 Vertical Market Case Studies: Speech Technology in Warehousing/Distribution

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Henry Schein is a leading global provider of supplies, equipment, and pharmaceuticals to medical and dental offices. The 92-year-old company, which is headquartered in Melville, N.Y., serves more than 1 million customers through a core network that encompasses five distribution mega-centers spanning nearly 2 million square feet. The company operates a total of 58 manufacturing and distribution facilities across the country and employs more than 25,000 people, processing and shipping more than 43 million cartons every year.

Each day, workers at Henry Schein’s facilities dispatch 36,000 orders, 98,000 cartons, and 156,000 line items, ensuring next-day delivery with a 98 percent fill rate.

Ed Igrisan, vice president of U.S. distribution for the West, South, and Canada, says Henry Schein’s mission revolves around partnerships and delivering excellence to every customer, making sure that customers get exactly what they want, exactly when they need it.

To help with that, Henry Schein relies on voice-based warehouse picking technology from Lucas Systems. “This strategic partnership has helped to transform our distribution centers, driving substantial improvements in worker productivity, operational agility, and overall satisfaction for both our Team Schein Members and customers,” Igrisan says.

Lucas Systems’ voice recognition software is embodied in Jennifer, the brains and orchestration engine behind its technology. Jennifer provides in-the-moment voice and visual guidance for warehouse tasks, such as picking, replenishment, put-away, loading, and cycle count.

Lucas’ voice-directed software was originally implemented in Henry Schein’s Jacksonville, Fla., mega-center, with the goal of enhancing accuracy in item picking and quantity while the company maintained a steadfast focus on growing its customer base across the United States, providing next-day ground delivery to 95 percent of its customer base. Henry Schein’s picking accuracy rate was already in the 99 percent range, but the Lucas Optimization Suite propelled that to more than 99.94 percent accuracy. The company estimates that it started seeing a real return on its investment in 18 months.

Since then, the partnership has grown to encompass all five U.S. distribution mega-centers and delivered additional benefits, including productivity gains and training time reductions.

Jennifer makes for faster distribution worker training, especially in the case of multiple languages, accents, and dialects. The system supports up to 30 language variations.

“Jennifer is a comforting presence to workers as they step through their training. We’ve seen a 20 percent to 30 percent reduction in training time for our new workers,” says Arnie Roberts, senior director of distribution at Henry Schein.

“We have several team members picking in Spanish now, which is a first for Henry Schein,” Igrisan adds. “The language options have been game changers in comfort, training, and morale.”

Lucas’ technology has proven to be “flexible and nimble” and been accepted by the younger generation and tenured employees alike, providing more control for workers and helping them do their jobs more efficiently, according to Igrisan.

“The new gear we’re using is lightweight. Team members really like it. The Bluetooth headsets are exceptional. They’re cord-free and they give our team members a new range of motion. It’s been a home run,” he says further.

As a healthcare distributor, Henry Schein must adhere to strict requirements and regulatory standards related to lot number checking, expiration date verification, serial number capture, and other specialized instructions. Voice picking ensures a consistent workflow and necessitates specific validation points during picking, such as check string or scanning validation.

“We provide many prescription items,” Igrisan says. “Jennifer will give the team member the expiration date we need to confirm, and once we confirm the dating is good, we then pick the product and send it on to the customer.”

Finally, Lucas Systems offers real-time distribution center management capabilities through the Lucas Management Console, which Henry Schein production supervisor Sarah Zepeda says are a critical key to refining processes, providing excellent real-time tracking, ensuring all tasks are assigned, matching up exceptions, and getting orders fully completed.

“The real-time data is fantastic. I always know who’s working on what, what part they have, what batch they have, and what time it should be finished. I can look everything up on this computer and manage everything on the efficiency front. I don’t need to go walk the loop,” she says.

Lucas Crosses 100 Billion Milestone

Workers at more than 400 warehouse facilities across four continents have made more than 100 billion warehouse picks using Lucas Systems software, according to an announcement in early May by the distribution center technology company.

The 100 billion milestone is a culmination of industry longevity combined with tens of thousands of workers using its sophisticated speech recognition and optimization software, powered by Jennifer, according to a statement from Lucas Systems.

“Workers make nearly 17 million picks each day with Lucas’ technologies,” says Lucas Systems’ founder and CEO Rick Brown in the statement. “For 26 years, we’ve been helping to improve the quality of work-life for warehouse workers while dramatically boosting productivity, accuracy, safety.”

Lucas Systems says its technologies gain favor among warehouse workers for several reasons, including the following:

  • No voice training required with industrial-grade dual-engine speech recognition.
  • Flexibility for workers with support for more than 30 languages.
  • Multimodal worker interaction using voice, visual, and scanning options.
  • Built-in optimization that can reduce worker travel by up to 50 percent while improving picking accuracy.
  • Software that runs on a wide variety of Android devices, including tablets, wearable devices, and mobile computers.

Warehouse workers value technology so much that they are willing to make important trade-offs to access it. According to a recent market study by Lucas Systems, which polled 500 U.S. warehouse workers, nearly three in four said they would consider a pay cut at another company for an opportunity to use technology if it helps them in their jobs.

“Innovation has been key to our longevity and growth,” Brown says. “We have been at the forefront of leading change in the distribution industry, which is now occurring at an accelerated rate.”

The Payoff

With Lucas Systems’ voice-based warehouse picking technology, Henry Schein has seen the following results:

  • A 20 percent to 30 percent reduction in training time for new workers.
  • A nearly 1 percent increase in the picking accuracy rate.
  • A return on investment within 18 months.

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