A couple of years ago Itella invested in the automation of its sorting centers. New sorting centers were built in Kuopio and Oulu and the Tampere and Helsinki centers were refurbished. Within a few years Cimcorp’s MultiPicks have taken their place as a cornerstone of modern optimized mail sorting
The speed and ease of communications via the Internet have brought huge challenges to conventional mail. The quantity of letter post has fallen dramatically and the mailman’s cart also has less bulk mail than before. Newspapers are also switching to online versions. Conventional mail services are living through an unmistakable period of transition.
“This is not the death of conventional services though, just a change in delivery ratios,” says Reijo Mononen, development manager at Itella.
Since the younger generations have learnt to read their news and mail via the Internet, the focus point of the postal service is gradually shifting towards parcel deliveries. The growth in e-tailing and ordering goods from further afield is increasing the amount of parcels being mailed. At the same time as the Kuopio, Oulu, Tampere, and Helsinki sorting centers invested in general automation, they also procured parcel and bundle sorting equipment.
“We can see clear opportunities for growth in this sector. This year our growth rate for the parcel business has been seven percent,” explains Mononen.
With the investment program focused on the sorting center automation, Itella has prepared itself not only for the increase in electronic communications but also for tougher competition. Although mail delivery was opened up to competition at the beginning of 2011, it has not yet had a tangible impact on Itella’s operations, but new players in the sector are expected to emerge in the future. Itella is striving to use its investments to cement its place as the leading player.
“The Cimcorp robot system has allowed us to improve our cost efficiency and respond to changes in volumes better. Delivery of letters and parcels account for over half of Itella’s business, and significant improvements have now been achieved with an eye to the future,” says Mononen.
It didn’t take long for the MultiPick system to claim its place in the sorting center. Mononen believes that these days it would be difficult to imagine a sorting center operated completely manually. At the Helsinki branch, which handles over half of the entire letter post in Finland, MultiPick has even been given its own nicknames.
“Inside the sorting center all the crates are moved by MultiPick. At the Helsinki center they jokingly call it the amoeba, organism or bedrock, on which everything else is built,” laughs Mononen.
Continued controllability and efficiency
The automation of the sorting centers has delivered clear improvements in both the ergonomics of the work and process controllability: employees no longer have to lift crates and the system is always available when it is required.
“It is crucial that the reliability and availability of the equipment remains at a high level. We have an agreement with Cimcorp for 24/7 support, and it works extremely well and reliably.”
In addition to working conditions, the robot system has also brought about significant changes in maneuverability and monitoring of deliveries.
“Our ability to track deliveries has improved dramatically, and thus we can also control the processes better. It is essential for supply chain management that we are able to track deliveries and we know where they are in their journey at any given time.”
Expectations of process speeds have also essentially been met.
“As far as throughput times are concerned, we have tough requirements for the whole system. Some of the Helsinki crate flows have not yet been connected to the system, but the tests carried out at the robot commissioning stage met the targets.”
The benefits of modular robot systems in the current situation are crystal clear. For example, during maintenance a single robot can be taken to the repair point and the working area of another robot can be extended. So operations can continue without losing a single storage space.
“Likewise, if our needs grow in the future new cells can be installed in the robot systems thus increasing capacity,” states Mononen.
Cimcorp’s solution for tray handling and sorting
features robots operating on an overhead gantry to store and sort trays of mail in stacks placed directly on the floor. The gantry is modular in design, allowing the system to operate over large floor areas, and the robotic handling is both very fast and totally accurate. With vast experience in logistics automation, Cimcorp can design, install and support the total solution including robotics, conveyors, material flow control and systems integration.
TEXT: TOTTI TOISKALLIO PHOTOS: SINI PENNANEN