Mile Hi Companies
Success story

Mile Hi Companies Makes Significant Cuts to Warehouse Picking Costs and Training Time

The Mile Hi Companies organization traces its humble beginnings to 1901, when Michael Taddonio began peddling fresh fruits and vegetables in and around Denver, Colorado, in a horse-drawn wagon. Across four generations of the Taddonio family, that wagon has evolved into three successful companies, including Mile Hi Foods, Mile Hi Bakery and Mile Hi Warehousing & Logistics.

When the first McDonald’s restaurant was built in Denver in 1956, Mile Hi Fruits & Vegetables at the time won the potato-supply contract and a decades-long business partnership was born. Mile Hi established a full-service distribution center in Denver in 1976 distributing McDonald’s products. Today, Mile Hi Foods distributes all food and paper-related products to 337 McDonald’s restaurants in Colorado and surrounding states.

The first Mile Hi Bakery was built in 1985 to provide all the buns for McDonald’s in the Rocky Mountain region. The Mile Hi Warehousing & Logistics division was created in 2018 to independently provide distribution and warehousing, as well as refrigerated, frozen and dry-storage space within a 30,000-square-foot facility.

Modernizing the Mile Hi foods picking process

Cody Mullins, Senior Logistics and Supply Chain Executive, along with Mile Hi Companies’ Tami Niccum, Director of IT and Brian Evans, Manager of Continuous Improvement, have worked together on a range of supply chain and logistics projects, including:

  • Warehouse management system (WMS) implementations and upgrades.
  • Transportation system implementations.
  • Process enhancements.
  • Data analytics and visualization.
  • Dispatch centralization.
  • GS1 Traceability requirements.

A timely supply-chain success story is how Cody, Tammy and Brian teamed up to modernize the Mile Hi Foods picking process, replacing its Vocollect voice solution with Ivanti Velocity’s industrial browser console and Speakeasy voice-enablement.

The challenge and the opportunity

Since 2004, Mile Hi Foods had been leveraging a Vocollect integration through its NCR Power Warehouse WMS. As Cody Mullins explained, the Vocollect picking solution had served Mile Hi well for over 17 years. However, the low SKU count within chain-restaurant distribution centers often creates opportunities for “check digit memorization” which can lead to:

  • “Mispicks” — confirming the check digit from one location and selecting from another.
  • “Advance confirmation” and full-order line shortages or partial-order line shortages.

“In systems distribution or chain-restaurant distribution, pickers or selectors can memorize check digits rather quickly because of the low SKU counts,” Cody said. “For example, the cooler at Mile Hi Foods has maybe 40 unique SKUs. Even if we were to change those check digits today, selectors in those environments could have them memorized by the end of the day.”

As he explained, because selectors are working in a piece-pay environment, advanced confirmations become an issue with selectors readying an order and rapidly confirming check digits and quantities — sometimes up to 10 to 12 locations ahead of beginning the selection process.

“Many selectors in that environment are really good at it when they stay focused, rapidly selecting the products they’ve already confirmed ahead. However, any kind of interruption can really derail it.”

Researching other solutions

While Vocollect was historically a great solution for Mile Hi Foods, the idea of layering an additional component by requiring a scan confirmation, as well as retaining most spoken commands, seemed to add complexity. The leadership team at Mile Hi decided to move away from check-digit pick confirmations and move toward scan confirmations. Bluetooth and unattached device-management concerns were also considered, and the decision was made to convert the picking process to wrist-mount wearables with a tethered ring scanner.

The team initially considered two solutions. After reviewing the services provided by these vendors, the Mile Hi leadership team was very enticed by the end user experience the competing solutions offered. Audible cues as well as a physical screen and the required scan confirmation was exactly what the team was working toward.

However, as the team dug deeper into the integration process, concerns arose when team members realized that both solutions required batching systems. This would have created significant issues in the areas of demand replenishment, negative value pick slots and inventory control constraints.

Diving deep into warehouse offerings

A deeper look into the functionality of the advanced warehouse offerings such as Power Warehouse by NCR revealed an embedded RF-selection feature that could be configured for item confirmations. The Mile Hi team began testing the functionality. “With a few custom changes, we had the workflow for the RF selection process almost where we wanted it,” Brian Evans said.

However, two problems remained. The UI wasn’t ideal on the wearable and there were no audible cues. An internet search led the team to a Zebra Technologies video about modernizing all-touch terminal emulation. In turn, Zebra Technologies introduced the Mile Hi team to an Ivanti Wavelink representative, who scheduled a demo of Ivanti Velocity industrial browser console and Speakeasy voice-enablement solution. The team was then provided with a demo license and some initial guidance.

Project design, build out and testing

Still working with the Power Warehouse WMS, the Mile Hi team proceeded to build out a project with the Velocity client and Speakeasy that encompassed:

  • Screen captures.
  • Identifying inclusions and exclusions of screen data.
  • Scripting to replace redundant or unnecessary steps.
  • Page layout, color selections and font changes for custom screen designs.
  • Text-to-speech configurations.
  • Customizing scripts for GS1-compliant barcodes.
  • Integrating with mobile-device management for ease of support.

According to Brian Evans, the team is determined to move forward with the WT 6300 series of Android devices that fit on selector arms. One major issue was that Mile Hi’s WMS has a hard time presenting to a device with a tiny screen size. To put it into perspective, warehouse associates already complained about the text size and screen sizes of mobile computers and forklift terminals.

“We had to figure out a way to basically get all the information in the WMS onto that tiny screen size,” Brian said.

Using the Ivanti Velocity console, the team could pivot the information to act and look much cleaner than it would have in the native green screen.

Brian added,

With Ivanti Velocity we can have the screen look exactly how we want — no scrolling necessary. We were able to fit everything on the screen plus strip out a lot of ancillary data with no value-add. So, in this state, selectors get their location, their item number, a brief description, and a field to scan the barcode. That's all we needed.

Genuine results in real numbers

It’s safe to say that Mile Hi Companies has realized measurable benefits from its efforts that team its Power Warehouse WMS, WT 6300 series Android devices and Ivanti Velocity and Speakeasy. These include:

  • An overall credit reduction of 48%.
  • 43% cost avoidance compared to the previous system for a savings of $4,960 per selector.
  • 66% reduction in training time — from three days to one day.
  • Improved customer satisfaction as it relates to order accuracy.

Other advantages include the ease and speed of implementation versus comparable solutions, no integration requirement, full flexibility in text-to-speech and speech-to-text functionality, an enhanced end user experience and an ROI that exceeds expectations.

For more context around the 66% cut in training time, Cody Mullins noted that with the previous voice system integration, a trainee with a listening device would follow the trainer and listen to the interactions between the trainer and the system on day one. On day two, the trainee would still follow with the listening device and the trainer would continue to go through the vocal commands while the trainee selected and stacked the product. On day three, the trainee would wear the device and go through the process while the trainer followed and listened, continuing to aid the trainee as needed.

Cody concludes, “Now it’s a one-day training engagement where the wearable is simply strapped on the trainee’s arm. The trainer follows along and can interact with the trainee without the headset.”

Note: A customer’s results are specific to its total environment/experience, of which Ivanti is a part. Individual results may vary based on each customer’s unique environment.


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