Do you have too many carousels, trucks and dollies in your baggage makeup areas and just not enough space to cope with it all? Well, that’s where applying the warehouse practice of batch building can really help your airport become more efficient, without having to change the sorting system or transform the airport building.
The storage and retrieval of baggage in batches can save airports valuable space, while optimising resources and giving operators greater control over the baggage. Batch building is easy to implement and can be configured according to an individual airport’s operations.
In this article, we’ll explore the concept of batch building and some of the ways batch building can really benefit an airport. We’ll also take a look into how an airport might start to implement it.
No matter the type of airport or the sorting technology employed by the airport, many are struggling to make baggage handling effective, in particular, the number of personnel required. This is true for regional and international airports, as much as it is for major hubs dealing with both domestic and international flights and transfers. And it’s also the case whether the airport is using a simple conveyor belt, loop sorter technology or a carrier system provided by ICS technology.
The trouble is that airports are having to find more space for baggage makeup. The high concentration of departure flights, together with makeup areas opening just two hours prior, means more makeup areas are needed at the same time. Airports either have to find the physical space to expand their makeup areas, or their operators are forced to utilise one makeup area for several flights. Both options are costly and inefficient. Using one baggage makeup area for up to five different flights, for example, requires resources dedicated to manually sorting bags into correct containers. When airports are making large investments in automated sorting systems at the start of the baggage handling process, it seems particularly cost ineffective to then have to employ manual sortation at the end of the baggage handling process. There is also the risk that bags will be sorted into wrong containers.
A further problem that airports are facing is finding the resources to sort and lift the bags. This is not always easy given that it’s very physical work that is not well rewarded. And even if staff can be found, they must be cleared for security purposes and so cannot simply be replaced overnight.
The present day circumstances brought about by COVID-19 adds to the problem. Social distancing requirements must be observed in the workspace and this can be difficult when as many as five or six sorting staff are typically working closely together in confined physical spaces.
An uncomplicated way of resolving these issues, however, can be found by applying the warehouse principles of batch building.
In principle, airport baggage handling systems are very much the same as warehouse systems. Both involve the intake of items (‘goods-in’ in warehouse systems and ‘check-in’ in airports), the storage of items (goods or boxes in a warehouse and early baggage storage in airports) and the handling of these items (‘commissioning’ or packing of goods in warehouses and ‘baggage makeup’ in airports).
Yet, the two systems are organised very differently. Where one typically sees many tugs and dollies constantly moving inside the baggage hall and the apron, there are no trucks to be seen inside a warehouse - only small forklifts and tugs. Instead, warehousing systems employ the batch building concept, where goods are sorted and stored in batches, retrieved for commissioning and finally transported to a docking station for loading into waiting trucks. The organised warehouse is saving both space and valuable resources.
Batch building can easily be achieved in airports. In a warehouse, everything goes into storage; why not apply the same principle to airports? An airport can repurpose its early baggage storage (EBS) system into multi-purposed storage, also for batch building purposes. In this way, there is really nothing radical about the batch building approach to baggage. And there’s not necessarily a need to make changes to physical installations in an airport – it’s just more a matter of improving operations and increasing efficiency.
Batch building optimises the loading of bags by pre-sorting baggage in batches according to departure time slots, specific flights or different categories of baggage (first class, business class and so on). Baggage flows into the dynamic multi-use storage from check-in or transfer baggage inputs. An operator can then ‘pull’ batches of bags destined for the same flight, for example, from the buffer lanes. When building a batch of bags in the storage, the control system will alert the operator that a batch is ready for loading. The operator can then release the batch and load it effectively within minutes and without any manual sorting required.
What are the advantages of this concept? Well, the benefits of batch building to an airport are manifold.
The batch building concept means that one chute or lateral no longer must be open for two hours for a specific destination. It also means that an operator no longer needs to walk back and forth to move the occasional bag over to the dolly or ULD. The operator simply handles all the bags for one departure at the one time, making the speed loading of batches possible.
Batch building allows for the more efficient handling of bags. For example, if bags are batched for specific flights, containers (baggage dollies) for the first flight could be built in one line and while they are being loaded, containers for a second flight can be built in a second line. Once the first flight’s bags are discharged, then the second flight’s bags can be loaded and so on.
Batch building reduces the number of makeup areas needed so saves on valuable floor space. The same floor space, therefore, can handle more flights at the same time or can be used for something else other than makeup.
As baggage is automatically pre-sorted into batches and retrieved in batches, fewer operators are needed for the makeup and lifting of bags. So batch building can keep the number of resources to a minimum and create a more efficient use of those resources.
Batch building can significantly reduce the physical work required of the operators, particularly if assisted by machinery such as loading devices, robots, telescopic conveyors or joystick operated arms. Moreover, batch building aids the social distancing of operators as fewer operators for manual makeup are needed.
The system of ‘pulling’ bags puts the control of the bag in the operator’s hands as it is up to the operator to decide, within the departure plan, when to pull the bag. By contrast, the operator must wait for the bag to be ‘pushed’ randomly through the conventional system, having no idea when the bag will arrive or ability to exert control over it.
The operator can control the batch building in different ways - by time slots according to departure times, by flights or by many other different sorting criteria such as baggage class. This is up to the operator.
So how do airports start to implement the batch building concept? Well, those airports that are already using an EBS system are well placed to begin to implement batch building. Operators can begin to build batches in these repurposed storage areas.
But every airport will be different. So, it’s a matter of analysing an individual airport’s operations and finding a solution that works best for it. This will mean analysing its existing makeup areas and looking at investigating how it can be reconfigured. It could be as simple as replacing some makeup carousels with dedicated lines, for example, where it can locally start building batches. Some physical hardware will need to be installed, such as adding more conveyor lanes or an additional divert, but it won’t require a new sorting system. Or it could just be some software needs to be changed.
For airports implementing batch building in greenfield sites, the savings on floor space can be very significant. For brownfield sites, it will be difficult to make these savings as the space is already fixed. But for these airports, implementing the batch building concept will notably increase baggage handling capacity and operational efficiency.
It is recommended that airports implement batch building in just one area first, such as a corner of one terminal, while all other areas operate normally. By starting in one sector, the airport can gain knowledge about the new way of operating and, working together with BEUMER Group, can develop the rest of the airport based on the experience gained in the test area.
With airports currently operating at less capacity on account of COVID-19, there’s no better time to start implementing the batch building concept.
Airports can take advantage of the very successful warehousing practice of batch building in their baggage handling systems. The warehousing concept is well suited to airports and actually really do-able. It doesn’t require a huge physical transformation of the airport, or its baggage sortation system. Batch building is simply a way of optimising existing resources with the possible addition of some hardware. But it has the added bonus of reducing makeup space and the number of operators, while meeting social distancing requirements and greatly upping efficiency.