This series of four posts is designed to discuss some of the challenges faced by mid-sized postal organizations and parcel carriers wanting to take advantage of the growth in parcel volumes. In the initial post, we advocated that it is critical to develop a clear operations strategy focused on parcel distribution, rather than “piggy-backing” parcels on the letter mail processing network. In the second post, we talked about important characteristics of a parcel network, including its resilience. In this post, we cover some of the emerging processing automation technologies that must fuel any parcel network transformation.
Adaptability and Flexibility
Space is at a premium for companies with legacy sorting plants, sometimes near city centers. Handling a wide range of parcel shapes,weights and sizes in various states of consolidation (single piece, bundles, pallets) is increasingly important. Adaptable and flexible automation systems use emerging mechanical capabilities as well as more intelligent controls. New controls use the physical characteristics of a package to eject it into its bin at the right time and at the right acceleration, improving sort accuracy and shrinking chute sizes. Other controls are designed to vary total sorter throughput based on induction rates in order to reduce energy consumption, wear and maintenance.
Vertically-oriented sorters are designed to fit in places where space is tight. 0º induction lines are used to feed items on the upper part of the sorter, granting very high throughputs while 30º induction line can be installed both on the upper and lower part of the sorter. Multiple types of chutes accommodate various product types. Information capture devices provide information during the loading process, directing the items to the proper chute.
Contactless sorting increases the mechanical efficiency of sorting systems while reducing energy consumption, and wear and tear. The footprint of contactless sorting systems is generally smaller than other systems and its speed can be modulated based on actual demand. These sorters typically use linear synchronous motors, inductive power transfer and direct-drive motor rollers by embedding them into cells, thus eliminating transmission-belt mechanisms. The activation of cells via Wifi eliminates the need for dedicated equipment at each cell. These sorters are more easily expanded and system installation is considerably simplified.
Dynamic Discharge Compensation
While increasing conveyance speed will increase throughput, the difficulty, and therefore the importance, of maintaining accuracy increases as the speed of conveyance increases. In order to discharge articles to their intended location, the items must be delivered to their designated discharge location within acceptable tolerance ranges. As speed of conveyance increases the timing of the discharge becomes very critical, as does the acceptable tolerance ranges decreases.
The dynamic discharge compensation technique makes real time adjustments to the timing of the discharge based on the determined actual position of the item on the crossbelt. By detecting the relative location of the item positioned off-center on the crossbelt cell, the technique determines a release point for discharging to the assigned chute. This release point is determined so as to compensate for the relative location of the item on the crossbelt cell. A discharge is initiated once the release point is reached.
Linear Induction Motors
Traditional tilt tray or cross-belt sorters are actuated by electromechanical motors or traditional rotating motors. The use of linear asynchronous or synchronous induction motors provides more accurate automation and higher accelerations, reducing unloading time and improving trajectory precision. Operating speeds can be increased and the spacing of outlets can thus be reduced. These motors eliminate actuator wear, a critical issue in conventional tilt mechanisms, and reduce noise and power consumption.
High Capacity Induction
High loading capacity induction can be achieved by using 30-degree lines with acceleration/speed adjustment tied to the sorter throughput. Item orientation can be used to increase system stability and production capacity. Accelerations are generally limited to 4 m/sec, ensuring high object stability, improving loading precision, and handling a wide range of objects.
This series of posts is designed to discuss some of the challenges faced by mid-sized postal organizations and parcel carriers wanting to take advantage of the growth in parcel volumes. As we mentioned in the initial post, it is critical to develop a clear operations strategy focused on parcel distribution, rather than “piggy-backing” parcels on the letter mail processing network. How many hubs? How far apart? What processing windows? These are just a few of the key questions that must be answered when designing the right parcel distribution network. Overnight products leave very little time for processing, requiring high-capacity, high-speed equipment; two- or three-day products allow a more efficient design of the distribution network, of hubs and of terminals.
comScore recently forecasted that 2014 e-Commerce sales in the U.S. will grow 16% over 2013. At the same time, major shippers like Amazon are creating new distribution centers, changing distribution patterns and increasing the demand for shorter, regional trips. There is no point in designing a parcel network that achieves optimal efficiency if the first change causes the system to collapse. The carrier’s distribution network must be designed to adapt to changing distribution patterns and to other changes in environmental conditions (also referred to as environmental requests).
Resilience is defined as the ability to maintain critical functionality in the face of significant stress. Resilient networks (also said to be”robust”) exhibit two key abilities: infrastructure capacity to respond (equipment, people) and a response culture. More about the latter in another post. Defining the optimal level of infrastructure needed to maintain robustness is not trivial. Interestingly, the study of complex adaptive biological systems provides some answers (1) (2). These complex systems usually show two characteristics:
- Partial redundancy, or the ability of the network’s nodes and links to (partially) take over a similar function in other parts of the network. This means, for instance, the ability to process, sort and transport on behalf of other parts. This way, if a part of the network is lost or overwhelmed, other parts can help.
- Versatility is the ability of network nodes and links to (partially) perform other functions than their primary role. For instance, primary sort hubs should be able to provide collection or delivery for other terminals in case of need. This capability has also been referred to as “functional plasticity” in the study of complex adaptable systems.
Planning such a network is now highly doable. The robustness of a planned network of hubs and links can be tested in response to environmental changes by using a simulation model such as the one developed to study USPS consolidation here and here. Various levels of redundancy and versatility can be tested and optimal levels can be selected. Of course, as mentioned above, infrastructure is only half of the equation, a response culture is also necessary.
(1) Whitacre J. M., “Degeneracy: a link between evolvability, robustness and complexity in biological systems” Theoretical Biology and Medical Modelling, vol. 7(6), 2010
(2) Braendle, C. and M.A. Félix, Plasticity and Errors of a Robust Developmental System in Different Environments. Developmental Cell, 2008. 15(5): p. 714-724.
USPS has started offering its residential customers in the Northern Virginia area (Near Washington DC) free notification by email of mail to be delivered to their mailbox the same day. Customers receive scanned images of the outside of their envelopes and small packages the morning before they receive it. The images are a by-product of the automated sorting process where addresses are located on the envelope or small parcel and red to determine their sorting destination.
Notification for PO Boxes
A similar service has been available to P.O.Box holders where they can receive text messages when mail is being delivered to their box. The USPS strategy is to increase direct mail response rates by providing direct mailers with “two impressions”, one when customers sees the email and one when they receive the “real mail”, according to an MTAC meeting summary.
“Did you know that the USPS is building new tools to help our customers manage their mail from PCs, smartphones and other devices? Now, we’re inviting you to test on new service—Real Mail Notification—at no cost when you register below,” the invitation said. About 10 to 14 days after the user signs up they will receive daily emails with the scanned images of the mail that will be delivered that day.
We are delighted to announce that our Virginia office will be moving September 1, 2014. The new address is 8300 Greensboro Drive, Suite 800, McLean, VA 22102. The phone number will still be 703 691 0380.
decision analysis partners has been awarded a project to evaluate the feasibility of several innovative postal products. The respective studies include benchmarking similar services by other posts, estimate market size and demand, perform SWOT analyses and cost and revenue estimations.
Postal operators we must create new and innovative solutions that meet the needs of tomorrow’s customers and increase the loyalty of current customers. This includes developing new relationships with younger people who, compared with earlier generations, increasingly view mail as less relevant. Operators must anticipate the needs of technologically connected small businesses and recognize the global nature of commerce by responding to the needs of customers who operate internationally.
decision analysis partners has been awarded a complex study of telecommunications for the Caribbean islands of Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Grenada by the World Bank. The study aims at evaluating overall broadband availability on the islands, and connectivity to the outside World. Following the development of a detailed baseline, the team will recommend Government-wide solutions on each island, digital inclusion initiatives and improvements to overall connectivity.
Latin America and the Caribbean lag far behind developed countries in broadband penetration, according to a new index launched on Wednesday by the Inter-American Development Bank. It finds Chile, Barbados and Brazil in the best position to take advantage of this vital development tool. The 26 countries of the region included in the index posted a score of 4.37 on the Broadband Development Index. By comparison, the countries of the OECD rate an average of 6.14. Chile leads the regional ranking with a combined score of 5.57, followed by Barbados at 5.47 and Brazil with 5.32. The index brings together 37 indicators, each with a score ranging from one (least development) to 8 (most development), to come up with the overall index. The indicators are chosen on the basis of four pillars: public policy and strategic vision, strategic regulation, infrastructure, and applications and knowledge.
decision analysis partners is pleased to announce that it has opened an additional office in Princeville, Hawaii on the Island of Kauai.
“This office will enable us to cover more ground on the U.S. Mainland, in Hawaii and in the Far East as we expand our geographical coverage”, said Bernard Markowicz, dap’s Managing Director. “We are also proud to support the economic development of Kauai by seeking to hire and employ additional local residents as our business expands.”, he added.