This project started as single letter sorter project, but developed into a long term strategic relationship.
When I first engaged with the customer they had an existing letter sorter that was around 14yrs old and prone to failure due to the age and the condition of the equipment. The customers brief at the time was to provide a system with the latest specification and to maximise the investment through operational efficiencies and the implementation of future initiatives.
In consultation with the Operations, Finance and IT teams we agreed a design and specification that met the customer’s current and future requirements, documenting all the processes and functionality with the Key Stakeholders to ensure clear understanding and that the dataflows to and from the sorter were robust, accurate and understood.
Once installed we not only replicated the features of the previous sorter, but incorporated new functionality that enabled the customer to perform in line processes i.e: Dynamic printing of logos and indicias, Revenue Protection using the Sorter to count and reconcile postings submitted, as well as automatically generating volume data for billing purposes.
The outcome of this project was that the customer had a much more robust sorting solution that delivered major operational efficiencies via the increased throughput and the elimination of several manual processes, deemed by the customer to be a real success.
I was initially contacted about an automated solution for processing parcels that were being processed manually at the time. The customer was operating a roller conveyor with handheld scanners to scan and process parcels coming into the facility.
Once I started to work with the Project team and look at the types of solutions available it was clear that there were other types of items within the facility that could also be processed with the same solution to maximise the investment.
At that point the scope of the Project was widened from a Parcel Sorter to a Packet & Parcel Sorter. Clearly the Projects benefits increased significantly, but so did the design of the solution as we needed to incorporate OCR and Barcode reading, utilise weight and dimensioning data to ensure we had separation of products to different parts of the sorter/building.
The technical elements of the solution were very bespoke in terms of the integration of mapping databases to support individual address identification, dynamic in line extraction of items based on changing customer requirements as well as the poling of real time data to and from the sorter (in some cases involving a third party supplier) to provide item data to multi carriers and generate live performance metrics internally.
Due to the size of the solution and the space constraints we also had to incorporate extensive building works and or legislative issues into the project, but as we had such a strong and like-minded Project Team focused on the deliverables, we delivered a solution that had a stiff early challenge in the form of high Christmas volumes, but managed to come through it, processing record numbers of items that would have had to have been processed manually.
I met with a customer who had a network of Letter Sorters that were approximately 15 years old and in quite serious decline due to the age of the equipment and the large amount of obsolete parts that were proving more and more difficult to source, placing the business at risk.
Due to the number of sorters within the network replacement of the sorters across the entire network was not an option, therefore it was agreed as a principle that a refresh program of refurbishment addressing the obsolescence would be the most logical and affordable option.
The added complexity for us was that the Sorters belonged to another manufacturer, meaning this was a very challenging opportunity.
We begun the discussions identifying exactly what was needed in terms addressing the obsolescence and the removal of the proprietary elements of the sorter, we then developed a set of customer requirements which was to be based on the development of a “proof of concept sorter.”
Over a period of time we developed a “proof of concept sorter” which basically consisted of the latest products replacing the obsolete items, operating independently from the previous manufacturer’s proprietary software and operating system, which gave the customer confidence that we could deliver a robust solution that would not leave their business exposed.
This resulted in the customer placing an order for the remainder of their network to be refurbished in the same manner, with a string of other requirements aimed at improving their business.
We developed a rolling program over the next 12-18 months whereby the old obsolete sorters were modified in line with the “proof of concept sorter” delivering: improved read rates and functionality, removal of obsolescence, tracking capability of items processed, as well as extending the life of the sorter by several years.
I have been involved in many different automation projects of differing sizes and complexities, probably the most difficult being the migration of a customer from a manual sort to an automated solution.
We address this by ensuring that once the outline solution has been drafted, all key parties are engaged and key stakeholders have input to the new solution. This is key not only to ensuring engagement, but also to make sure everyone understands what the solution will deliver and to maximise the benefits from the solution.
By understanding the dataflows to and from the sorter it is easy to identify any gaps or inaccuracies in the data as well as understand both how the sorter will operate and the format of the data it will produce.
In the Projects I have been involved wiith I have always looked to maximise the benefits from the inline process: Accounting, Printing, Sorting, Billing and Reporting these elements deliver real benefit to the customer in terms of lowering the cost to serve through increased capacity and operational efficiency.