In business for over 100 years and responsible for distributing hundreds of thousands of perishable and non-perishable food items daily, Ben E. Keith Co., Oklahoma City, Okla., was looking for a better and faster way to service its customers.

The current system—paper-based order fulfillment—lacked the efficiency needed to meet growing demands. To stay in the forefront of the food distribution industry, Ben E. Keith needed a solution to increase its overall picking accuracy.

“Servicing the customer is the No. 1 thing we do here, and the picking accuracy is a huge component of that,” says Michael January, director of process improvement for Ben E. Keith.

The paper-based system was vulnerable to human error, allowing mistakes to be made during order fulfillment.

“We always maintained about a 1:1,000 error ratio, which is the industry standard, but we always wanted better for our customers,” adds Shane Holloway, night warehouse manager at Ben E. Keith.

Hands-free, wearable solutions such as Zebra’s WT4090 hardware, RS409 ring scanner and SAE Selector Pro software give Ben E. Keith the added confidence and speed to ensure that all orders are filled correctly before being delivered to customers.

Following the evaluation of other options in the market, “we looked at a voice-selection technology and a scanning-based selection technology,” says January. “After an extensive evaluation, we decided on a scan-based solution using the Zebra 4090 and SAE Selector Pro software to help increase our accuracy.”

This combination gave Ben E. Keith’s pickers a wearable, screen-directed, scan-verified solution to tackle all orders at hand.

“The Zebra WT4090 is a perfect fit for the Selector Pro software—it’s non-intrusive, it’s hands-free operation—it’s a perfect device for warehouse picking,” adds Greg Braun, senior associate of Systems Application Engineering, Inc. (SAE), Houston, Texas.  

The flexibility of the hands-free system gives pickers the freedom to scan and move packages with ease, simplifying the overall process.

“The Zebra wearable really makes the job idiot-proof. You walk up to the case you need, scan it, pick it up, your label prints, you hit enter and it tells you where to go for your next spot, and you’re done,” says Jeremy Doyle, night warehouse selector for SAE.

Ben E. Keith has increased overall warehouse productivity—and due to the improved accuracy—almost completely eliminated picking mistakes.

“With the Zerba and SAE solution, we were able to maintain a 1:16,000 error ratio vs. a 1:1,500 error ratio,” says Holloway.

The increased level of efficiency also gives Ben E. Keith more time to focus on other important factors like traceability and material flow.

“I think the solution has proven itself—our accuracy rate is much improved, our returns are much lower than they were in the past and it allows us to do some tracking with regards to government regulations,” adds January. “The Zebra hardware and SAE software combined cuts cost and helps us run a good business.”

Accuracy delivered
When consumer safety is the top priority in food distribution—accuracy is a must. Government regulations are continuously evolving to make sure all food available to the public is free of contamination. With scan verification technology, Ben E. Keith acquires traceable data to monitor all packages leaving the warehouse. In the event of a food recall, Ben E. Keith can rely on stored data from the Zebra and SAE solution to pinpoint the source of the problem before removing it entirely from the market. Perishable items—like produce and dairy—also depend on accuracy and speed to ensure freshness upon delivery. The traceable data collected by the Zebra and SAE solution gives Ben E. Keith the power to cut back on expired inventory—further reducing operational costs.

Simplicity in the warehouse
Simplifying the process of warehouse picking was the primary focus of this solution, Braun explains.

“The system is very easy for selectors to use. It typically takes about 10 minutes to give them training on the device and how to use the software, and it’s very intuitive to operate,” he adds. “The process works by the selector electronically receiving an assignment, it directs them to the location, they pick the product, and they stage it on the pallet.”

The effortless operation ensures that mistakes are reduced and customer satisfaction is met.

Confidence on the floor
Ben E. Keith’s warehousing operation relies on accuracy to properly service its customer base—and accuracy begins on the warehouse floor.

With the Zebra and SAE solution, the warehouse floor is blanketed with real-time critical information such as pick assignment management, inventory status and traceability records to ensure the correct packages are being pulled and tracked by the day and night shifts. The scan-based system instills confidence by taking the guessing game out of daily operations.

“When we scan the product, it lets us know we’re at the correct location,” according to January.

Improved productivity
Transitioning from the previous paper-based system to the Zebra and SAE combination has increased order accuracy to 99.994%, making a world of difference in Ben E. Keith’s warehouse operations. The picking process is now a streamlined operation built around speed and accuracy, giving a major boost to the overall productivity.

“When I first started with this company, we moved about 6,000 cases a night,” says Holloway. “Now we’re moving about 47,000-50,000 cases a night. It’s unbelievable that we went from the dinosaur age to new-age technology using the SAE and Zebra system.”

Improvements were also seen on the individual level.

“Most of us can pull 250 cases an hour with this product; it makes it just that easy,” according to Doyle.

An investment for today and tomorrow
“In going through due diligence and trying to generate an ROI, we were able to get our full payback within six months,” says January.

The immediate improvements in warehouse operations saved money by reducing labor costs while simultaneously increasing productivity. Due to the enhancements, Ben E. Keith is now able to shift its attention to servicing its growing customer base instead of searching for more ways to improve cost-cutting efforts.

A guiding voice for growth
“SAE just released an exciting new upgrade to our Selector Pro product—it’s called Voice Guidance. The difference between Voice Guidance and voice recognition is that the selector doesn’t have to talk to the unit. The Voice Guidance system gives selectors an advantage of not having to look at the display for their instruction,” says Braun.

The Voice Guidance technology, along with Zebra’s WT4090 and RS409 ring scanner solution, further eliminates errors at the pick slot by allowing selectors to scan and tally packages with ease.

Zebra Technologies is based in Vernon Hills, Ill.