Digitalisation in the parcel industry: the key to optimal sorting operations

Through a series of blogs, we’ll explore the role digitalisation can play in boosting operational efficiency in the parcel industry. In this first article, Ramon Thoms (Director Parcel IT with Vanderlande) takes a look at how digital technologies can help to optimise sorting operations.

“By combining data from different pieces of the puzzle, operators can use insights to optimise their day-to-day operations “
Ramon Thoms
Director Parcel IT

Digitalisation isn’t new to the parcel industry. Courier, express and parcel (CEP) companies have relied on data for years to make their users’ experiences as seamless as possible, and to optimise their operations from first to last mile. However, one part of the parcel handling process is often forgotten: the sortation facility.

Sortation centres and their operations generate large volumes of data, from the vibration level in a single roller to the total number of sorted items. This equipment and process data has enormous potential, but without the right tools it is often left in siloes and rendered useless.

From siloed data to a digital ecosystem

The first step in unlocking the potential of data is to collect it and make it useable. To operate, parcel sortation facilities usually rely on a range of equipment, computer programs and software solutions, all of which generate data and can be supplied by various vendors or designed in-house. To use this wide variety of data, it must first be extracted and normalised into a uniform, standardised format.

Once collected, equipment and operational data can be integrated with in-house or third-party applications, such as business intelligence tools, maintenance management systems and high-level control software. By combining data from different pieces of the puzzle and looking at the bigger picture, operators can use insights to optimise their day-to-day operations – and develop a more proactive approach to parcel handling.

In a context where downtime must be avoided at all costs, and operational expenses are on the rise, data interpreted the right way allows CEP companies to detect anomalies in their equipment before they become an issue, and make better use of their resources. Furthermore, by improving resource and asset management – and offering enhanced monitoring and planning abilities – digitalisation can also support CEPs in reaching their sustainability goals.

Towards increased automation

In addition to enabling data-driven decision-making, a connected parcel handling system opens the door to further automation in the sortation process. Not only can digital solutions ease the integration of new technologies, such as robotics and AI-driven processes, but they can also automate and optimise the flow of parcels for maximum efficiency.

While integrating digital solutions in a sorting centre provides a multitude of benefits, it also brings its own set of challenges. Keep an eye out for the next blog in this series, when our digital experts will address some of the most common concerns in the industry – and explore the potential of various solutions.

In this first blog of the series, we explored how the use of data can – with the right tools – help CEP companies reach new levels of operational effectiveness in their sorting centres. In this era of digitalisation however, knowing where to start can be overwhelming. In the next blog, Richard Trost (Product Manager at Vanderlande) takes a closer look at the most common challenges when it comes to data integration in sorting facilities.

Like to know more?

Every parcel company and market are different. This is reflected by the various layouts of depots and sortation centres. Our experts are available to offer help and advice in every respect.