The TNT Express France center located in Orléans handles an outbound operation of 4,600 parcels per day average (5,500 during peak season), serves 100 domestic destinations, and carries an inbound operation of approximately 3,600 parcels per day.
The investment required for automating processes in a medium-sized operation such as TNT Express France will generally exceed the allowable budget. Automated systems are also sometimes oversized for the volume of products handled. Thus, manual labor often appears to be the only viable solution, though it is not a solution free from pitfalls.
In order to increase productivity and meet customer requests for later pick-up times, it is often necessary at the TNT Express France center to reduce the sortation window. But, as there is a finite limit of parcels that a worker can sort in 60 minutes, an alternate solution needed to be found.
During peak hours, when many parcels are stacked on the floor waiting to be sorted, the percentage of manual errors naturally increases, and its impact on revenues is well known. The more congested the parcel flow is, the more inefficient the sorting process.
Jérôme Menard, then serving as Method Manager at TNT Express France, worked together with Joel Fritsch, Intralox France Account Manager for the Parcel Freight industry, to evaluate the possibility of introducing automation into the center by using Intralox’s Activated Roller Belt ™ (ARB™) technology. Together, they devised a series of installations to automate operations from the parcels reception area to the sortation area.
The current line layout introduces Intralox ARB in various stages:
At the receiving dock for loose parcels, an ARB centering belt feeds the parcels first through a scanner. Meanwhile, at the receiving dock for pallets, after a pallet is disassembled, the parcels first go through a scanner and are then aligned with an ARB belt. These two receiving lines feed an Intralox ARB singulator, which creates a single file of parcels, inserting a gap between each item. This single flow is then split into two streams by an Intralox ARB switch that aligns parcels to either the left or the right of the sorting rollerway, pre-sorting parcels according to two large groups of destinations.
The results of the ARB technology installation have been highly satisfactory and have had a significant impact on sortation efficiency.
The TNT Express France center in Orléans has been able to reduce labor by moving one worker from the goods reception to the sortation area. The worker that was previously in charge of splitting the parcel flow into two destination groups may now devote his time mainly to manual sortation—simply double-checking the correct split and direction of parcels.
The main impact on the center’s operations is the flexibility that it has gained. The outbound sortation window has been shortened by thirty minutes: where it used to close around 21:00, it is now completed by 20:30, allowing employees to take their regular breaks before proceeding on to other tasks.
Those extra thirty minutes offer great impact, considering that the recent regulation in France on truck speed would have disabled TNT from maintaining both its standard late pick-up time (18:00) and the current sortation window. It’s been made possible for TNT to leave its pick-up time limit unchanged, to respect speed limits, and to finish in time.
Moreover, there is now more flexibility to accommodate extra capacity. The Intralox ARB switch has made the parcel flow overall more continuous by automatically splitting the parcel flow into destination groups, eliminating the previous bottleneck. And thanks to the support of the machines, jams during peak hours are avoided and operators can work at a better pace.