Robotic systems from Cimcorp will soon be putting the mail in order at a brand-new sorting center in central Sweden
Sweden’s postal operator, Posten Meddelande, is part of the PostNord group, formed by the merger of the Swedish and Danish postal services in 2009. Consisting of four different companies and employing over 40,000 people in the Nordic countries, PostNord has sales of approximately US$6 billion and distributes some 400,000 parcels, 11,000 pallets and 27 million letters every business day. By 2014, a fair share of these will be dispatched from the brand-new Hallsberg and Rosersberg sorting centers. At Hallsberg, Cimcorp’s automation technology will play a key role in mail handling.
As with mail operators worldwide, the growth in electronic communication has driven significant operational change for PostNord. With the future possibility of a stock exchange listing, the group is investing significant sums to overhaul its letter business to ensure profitability in the face of declining mail volumes. A key part of its strategy has been rethinking the geography of its sorting centers, a process also driven by the group’s environmental agenda. The first elements of its new distribution network – the new sorting centers at Hallsberg, in central Sweden, and Rosersberg, just north of Stockholm – are now underway.
Staffan Strömhage, Posten Meddelande’s Project Manager for the material handling systems for the Hallsberg and Rosersberg facilities, believes the company is on the right track.
“Investment in production is a crucial element of the group’s strategy to manage the volume trends for mail with improved scalability. There continues to be a significant level of substitution with e-mail and new solutions entering in the market, so we need to adapt to be competitive. New facilities equipped with the latest technology are a key part of our strategy.”
Posten Meddelande currently has 11 sorting centers across Sweden. The Hallsberg center, which will go live in August this year, will replace facilities in Karlstad and Västerås, while the Rosersberg facility, due to go live next year, will replace a sorting center in Uppsala and a logistics facility in Tomteboda. The contract for the design and supply of the handling system for Hallsberg was awarded to Cimcorp, with the framework agreement also including options concerning the Rosersberg center and other existing sorting facilities. Built on greenfield sites, the two new sorting centers are optimally located.
“They are sited close to the main railway lines so that more mail can be transported by rail instead of by road or by air,” explains Staffan Strömhage.
“This is not only environmentally friendly but also increases flexibility. Hallsberg is halfway between Gothenburg and Stockholm – Sweden’s two largest cities – and is also the main junction for trains heading south.”
The Hallsberg center will operate six days a week, employing 300 staff in the sorting of mostly business mail. With an operational footprint of 28,000m2, it will be the company’s second largest sorting center, becoming third largest when Rosersberg – which will be the biggest – comes on stream. As well as eco-friendly buildings and vehicles, Posten Meddelande is investing in significant levels of automation.
“We are investing in the latest technology in every aspect. We want to have a totally automated system, as this allows us to increase the flexibility of these new sorting centers. We already had some robotic technology but it dated from the 1980s, so it was slow and inefficient. Technology has moved on and now we are stepping up over 20 years in performance,” says Staffan Strömhage.
The Hallsberg solution features some robots from the Cimcorp+ series, which offers excellent energy efficiency and regenerative braking.
“As the environmental impact is very significant for us,” says Strömhage, “we were very attracted to these new robots.”
When it comes to state-owned businesses, however, impressive and eco-friendly technology alone is not a sufficient reason for choosing a supplier. In fact, the tendering process for the new facilities was stringently controlled and open to public scrutiny.
“We formed a specification matrix in order to evaluate the various bidders for the handling systems and the company with the highest score was chosen,” explains Strömhage.
Experience was one of many factors weighed up in the evaluation process. “We wanted a supplier with proven know-how in postal technology,” says Strömhage. “The handling system in Hallsberg is the only part of the project which will not undergo our usual pilot test, so it needs to be right first time. We knew that Cimcorp had supplied systems for the Finnish postal operator, Itella, so we went to see those in action. I had also heard positive reports from colleagues and friends about Cimcorp’s installations for Volvo in my home city of Gothenburg.”
The beating heart
It was during the phase of specifying the systems for Hallsberg that it became clear how important the handling solution would be. “We had thought that the handling system was not the core technology,” admits Strömhage, “but when we started writing the tender documentation, we realized that we could gain a significant amount by improving the internal logistics. Suddenly the material handling became critical. It is, in fact, the beating heart of the sorting center. Just like a heart pumping blood around the body, the system drives mail to the sorting machines – which are the value-adding part of our operations – in the most efficient way. We had been focusing on the mail-sorting machines but soon realized that the Cimcorp system can act as a kind of tray-sorting machine, allowing us to increase efficiency and simplify operations.”
Efficiency and speed are vital, given Posten Meddelande’s service commitment. Its customers are promised delivery within 24 hours for first-class mail posted by 5pm and within 72 hours for economy mail. “We are the only company in Sweden that reaches all our customers on a daily basis,” says Strömhage. “Cimcorp’s system will improve our internal logistics and shorten the handling time at the sorting center by making the trays ready for shipment in a more efficient way than we are able to do today. The workload of the operators will be eased because trays will be handled automatically. It simplifies the job. Also, the software will give us a much better overview of what is happening than we have today. We won’t need to worry about being in time for deliveries – when the train leaves, the load will be ready.”
Less is more
Perhaps the most impressive feature of the Cimcorp technology for Staffan Strömhage is its simplicity.
“Increased technology does not have to mean that a solution is complicated. Cimcorp offers a simple solution to solve a difficult task. To create simplicity out of complexity you need innovation; we consider Cimcorp to be an innovative company and we have learned a great deal during the development phase with them. Instead of a static system, we will have a dynamic one that promises even greater benefits for our entire supply chain. We see almost limitless opportunities to develop the sequencing of trays to better suit our future business. That’s very exciting.”
Scope of supply
For the new Hallsberg sorting center, Cimcorp is supplying – 6 MultiPick robots for the storage and sorting of trays (both incoming and outgoing mail) – 4 Cimcorp 3D Shuttle robots to store, sort and feed trays to the sorting machines in the right sequence; an extensive conveyor system; and Cimcorp’s WCS warehouse management software for control of the total material flow
TEXT: PAULA OVASKAINEN PHOTOS: ARTO HELIN, POSTEN MEDDELANDE, SHUTTERSTOCK