Recently, a colleague prompted me to think about an often overlooked area of the parcel depot. While talking about the increasing speed of sortation systems, they rightly said: “a system is only as fast as the chutes handling the volume.”
Many companies tend to focus on the more dynamic elements of the sortation system, but I think that there is an opportunity to bring chutes – or ‘outputs’ – into the overall discussion.
When considering output technology, parcel companies face a number of daily challenges. As the e-commerce market drives higher volumes, there can be no question that sortation solutions must become faster to cope.
This means that every component in the entire system will need to evolve. As my colleague indicated, there is no use in installing a faster sorter if the outputs can’t handle the higher volumes. In addition, product characteristics have changed significantly in recent years, which means that sorting solutions will need to adapt still further.
More frequently, parcel companies are handling smaller parcels that must travel down the output as gently as possible. This is to avoid any damage caused by accumulation of a combination of small and big or heavy parcels, for example. In turn, the weight of these products is decreasing, which can be a challenge given that outputs are generally gravity-fed.
Building sortation systems at height can create problems when lighter and smaller packages get stuck, because this is often at a position that is inaccessible to operators. The added fallout is that if a product gets stuck, the sorter will stop feeding the output as a fail-safe measure. Either products don’t come down, or they come down too fast and collide!
Additionally, outputs are installed in large quantities and a typical parcel system contains around 60-80 units. If a malfunction occurs in one output, it is highly likely that this will be seen across other locations. This can cost a great deal of time, effort and money to repair.
As a key part of our solutions (and evolutions) portfolio we have the intention of standardising a range of parcel sortation equipment. Outputs are a significant aspect within this. By using our end-to-end understanding of parcel sortation hubs, we are looking to unify the various process steps when designing and implementing a solution.
Through standardisation, we are able to make our output equipment more effective and improve our internal efficiencies. Although different parcel companies handle different products, there is undoubtedly a common ground from which to build a platform. By configuring to order instead of designing to order, all stakeholders can benefit.
In a way, receiving new requests helps to standardise our approach. Recently, we were asked to develop an output that could buffer but also integrate with an extendable. In combination, successfully accommodating these two requirements is highly challenging.
But we ensure that any lessons we learn from one development are carried over to the next project. This helps us to make further inroads into creating standard products within our solutions.
This is important when responding to the needs of parcel companies of all sizes. Combined with our end-to-end domain knowledge and our capabilities in the warehousing market, we are in a strong position to offer a standard proposition.
For me, outputs are an excellent example of how Vanderlande is able to join the dots when it comes to the various stages in a parcel depot. All are important and none can be overlooked, because they equally influence the overall system performance.
As the market evolves, it’s essential to look at the bigger picture and still keep an eye on the details.