The pandemic has certainly complicated efforts for the distribution tier of the alcohol industry. Enter companies like Dematic, a large-scale, Atlanta-based supply chain company. Offering cutting-edge voice-picking and automation tech, Dematic helps wholesalers implement and capture efficiencies that help fight back against the Covid crunch.
And these latest strategies work well during non-crisis times, too. For a deep dive into what voice-picking and automation can provide, we recently spoke with Tom Swovick, Dematic Global Market Development Manager, Food, Bev & CPG.
Beverage Wholesaler: What are the advantages of voice picking?
Tom Swovick: Voice picking is typically always part of the solution. Especially on the beer side, with the overall SKU proliferation.
There’s a blend of different channels you have to serve, including larger stores, smaller stores and bars and restaurants. They all have different SKU makeups but now with voice picking you can blend them together.
Voice picking lets pickers be routed to the correct places in warehouses, following the most efficient paths without looking at pieces of paper.
Once the picker is directed to the right place, frequently there is some sort of means of secondary confirmation that they’re at the right place, whether by voice of other wearables. Working together, these technologies provide further proof of where we are, so you get the best of both worlds.
Voice picking technology has really advanced tremendously as far as what it can recognize. And this technology is now available on IOS, Android, etcetera, bringing the cost threshold way down.
BW: What kind of data does this technology provide?
TS: The data side of this drives everything. Once you’re collecting in real time, there’s lots of benefits.
You end up with real-time measurements of where folks are in the warehouse versus where they should be. Knowing where 100 people are was a huge task when paper-based. Once it’s data-based with real-time feedback, you can quickly know when someone is falling behind and augment those areas.
Also you can better measure performance. Data is the yardstick to assess, incentivize, reprimand and acknowledge people in the positive sense.
BW: Why is this tech so important for the industry?
TS: Think about it: the beverage industry was lightyears ahead of where Amazon just got to. For how many years now have customers expected their beverage deliveries to be next-day, and with complex routes that changed every day?
Meanwhile, the SKU proliferation obviously is one of the banes of the industry. Ten years ago, a medium-sized place had 300 SKUs. Now they have 600, 700, 1,000. You have to deal with that complexity.
BW: How is that accomplished?
TS: We use a multi-shuttle with flexible storage buffer. You can robotically move product from the palate and send a case at a time into the storage buffer. Then you can more easily have the full range of SKUs available, especially for smaller routes. You can build the route-stop sequence into the palate in storage, making it easier to deliver.
This sequencing system gives flexibility. It’s a tremendous advancement.
For instance: the craft beer retailer is not going anywhere. The bigger the variety they have, the more satisfied customers they have. Their distributors need efficient means to provide a broad product mix without killing efficiency and still serving small retailers.
BW: You recently worked with the large-scale beverage distributor Reyes. What tech did you implement?
TS: That’s where voice technology is at its best. It’s such a scalable, modular efficiency.
BW: How can distributors begin using all this tech?
TS: As people begin their automation journey, it’s frequently advisable to have a ‘call, walk, run’ approach. Start with easier technology like voice and then advance to higher levels of automation.
This interview was edited and condensed for publication.
Kyle Swartz is editor of Beverage Wholesaler. Reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @kswartzz. Read his recent piece 12 Beer and Beverage Products to Watch from NBWA 2021.