Loose loads or containers, what maximises the throughput at parcel sortation centres?

Taking it to the max
Modern parcel sortation centres are facing continued availability issues and becoming too small to cope with increasing capacity demands. A higher volume of items is moving through the network than ever before and is expected to increase further still. 
Full capacity
Depots and hubs are already being used to the maximum, and space simply does not exist for them to expand. In addition, the majority of goods are moving through cities in particular, where real estate is already at a premium.
The question is: how to achieve a higher throughput per square metre at a parcel sortation centre without altering the building itself? 
End-to-end thinking
At Vanderlande, we believe that assessing the entire chain to look for improvements represents the bigger picture in the parcel market. In the future, the need for higher efficiency will be driven by volume, and higher levels of automation will be necessary to increase this. 
To maximise throughput at a depot, one solution is to swap loose loads for containers, and therefore reduce the number of docking doors required. 
Taking flight
As an example, compare a typical delivery truck to a cargo plane. Loose loads are never used to load the plane, because it would take days to complete. A plane has to fly or the operator does not stand to make a profit. 
Therefore, loading is carried out as quickly as possible by using uniform loading devices (ULDs) or containers. This principle can also be applied to delivery trucks. 
With traditional loose loads, a truck can wait at a depot for hours before it is completely filled. However, like the plane, it has to move continuously to be cost-effective. By using ULDs or containers, trucks can be loaded much faster. 
Clear advantages
However, today’s depots are designed around loose loads. This means that the footprint of these buildings aligns with a relatively slow method of (un)loading and depends on a high number of dock doors. 
If the capacity can be increased through the use of containers or ULDs, the size of a parcel depot could be reduced. This would result in a higher throughput per square metre.
The advantages are clear. For greenfield sites, a smaller building would need to be constructed in the first place (at a lower initial investment). At a brownfield site, the depot would be used to its fullest extent (increasing capacity). 
Another benefit of using containers is that it enables auto-unloading, which reduces the dependence on manual labour. 
Productive partnerships
Such an approach is entirely feasible by utilising the latest technology, for example robots. By giving them ‘hands’, ‘eyes’ and ‘brains’, they could easily pick the variable product profiles inherent within the parcel market.
If containers become the preferred option over loose loads, they would need to be handled, unloaded and stored in a parcel facility by AGVs (automated guided vehicles). We are already exploring ways to integrate this type of technology within our solutions.’
As a company, we aim to add value at every stage. This could already begin with maximising the throughput per square metre in a parcel sortation centre by using containers instead of loose loads.

About the author

Rob Qualm
Market Director Parcel