With day-to-day delivery becoming the industry standard, CEP providers are under increasing pressure to distribute faster. Automation enables high-speed sortation, but for human operators to interact safely and efficiently with automated systems, they need smartly designed workplaces.
With the steady flow of shipments moving at high speeds and the constant risk of parcels piling up, being an operator in the highly competitive CEP industry can be physically demanding. If the work environment is unhealthy or unsafe, parcel processing can be stressful, and under such conditions, no operator will last very long. CEP companies have no interest in wearing down their workforce.
Under favourable economic conditions, when unemployment rates are low, skilled and reliable operators are hard to come by, and replacing staff is costly. CEP companies are increasingly paying attention to retaining valuable staff – and attracting new hires – by designing work environments that are safe and less taxing. In this regard, ergonomics is not just about designing workplaces to a minimal safety standard, it’s also about ‘humanising’ workstations, for example by making room for personal belongings on the production floor.
On a global level, regulations for work environment safety and health are generally becoming stronger. For example, most countries have regulations for how much weight an operator can carry, for how long and how far operators can extend their arms while carrying something. In order to be CE certified, distribution centres in the European Economic Area need to comply with the EU Directive on machinery, which includes directions specifically about ergonomics.
Sortation efficiency and workplace safety are not opposites. In fact, ergonomics is, by definition, about ensuring through design both the efficient and safe interaction between people and items.
With the increasing level of automation that has happened in manufacturing and logistics since the sixties, researchers and engineers are paying more and more attention to how to best adapt human processes to the unyielding work of machines.
While it’s human nature to work at varying speeds, during a workday for example, automated systems never rest or slow down. Ergonomics can help support workflows that can be performed at a moderate pace over a longer period of time without exhaustion.
Ergonomics research also contribute to the innovation of sortation systems themselves. For example, when calculating the right ergonomic position for a new type of sortation system, we at BEUMER Group found that a certain movement performed by operators when handling rest mail parcels, could in fact also optimise the position of parcels for camera or scanner recording. This reduced the number of “no reads” in the system, enabling both more automated sortation and less physical handling of problematic parcels.
At the heart of operations at distribution hubs is the automated parcel processing system. At any point where human operators interface with the machine, whether physically or virtually, there’s potential for optimisation, both in terms of efficiency and in terms of ensuring workflows that are ergonomically sound. Sometimes, just minor adjustments can make a world of difference for everyday workflows and efficiency on the larger scale.
Newer sortation technology is not only increasing distribution capacity, it is also improving work environment quality. Such systems reduce the amount of heavy lifting, repeated movements and unnatural working positions.
There are several things parcel distributors can do to ensure ergonomics-based design of sortation systems, and with great system design, operator safety and gentle handling of parcels go hand in hand.
For example, when deciding the position of a destination chute for parcels going into a roller cage, the system design takes into account both how much space the operator needs to effectively and safely change the roller cages when full, and how the cage should be positioned to avoid parcels smashing into each other. Ideally, a tiny parcel should never get hit directly by a larger, heavier parcel. This can be avoided by slowing down parcel speed with a gradient tilt of the roller cage.
Other ergonomic options include:
To accommodate for both competitive forces demanding ever faster sortation speeds and for the scarcity of skilled operators, CEP providers need to design both efficient and attractive workplaces. Ergonomics can help optimise operations, e.g. better parcel handling, while limiting work hazards, like heavy lifting, repeated movement and unnatural working positions.
Get the full overview: Read our guide to e-commerce logistics for parcel distributors.
Guide to applying health and safety regulations to ergonomics.
Global trends in automated logistics point to more industry regulations favouring operator safety. Our experienced system designers and technical consultants at BEUMER Group work with clients every day to translate regulations into practical solutions that contribute to a better work environment and improve employee productivity and retention.
Emerging trends in global e-commerce make it increasingly difficult to know which is the right solution for automated parcel sortation.
Jørgen has been working with automation for thirty years. Many of his inventions started out as odd ideas that turned out to be well-functioning solutions. Jørgen never settles for the straight-forward approach if there’s the slightest chance that an alternative approach would work better.
Flemming contributes with his expertise on work environment requirements and regulations as part of designing sortation solutions for BEUMER clients. He educates System Designers in current norms and directives within ergonomics and other workplace safety and health-related issues.