How to improve visibility to optimise CEP operations

To manage current challenges in the CEP industry such as labour shortages and supply chain disruptions, many distribution centres are looking to optimise the communication between their different management systems. In doing so, they’re improving the visibility into their operations, enabling greater efficiencies in their end-to-end processes. 

We explore how the sortation facility is another component of the supply chain network that can enhance this visibility. 

How automated systems are improving visibility in the supply chain

A distribution centre’s processes today are often streamlined through the use of technology. 

Controls and monitoring systems are increasingly automating activity within the walls of a distribution hub, while transportation management systems manage the shipments of parcels when they reach the “other side of the gate” and throughout the journey to their destinations. 

In recent years, there has also been an uptick in the use of technology in that part of the process that lies between the the yard and the inbound sortation system through yard management systems. These software systems provide trailer and shipment visibility by automating truck arrivals, check-ins and departures, monitoring trailer movements out in the yard and tracking activity taking place on the dock. 

With the use of yard management systems, companies are now connecting existing solutions, speeding up their transportation operations, improving operator safety and reducing demurrage and detention charges. 

Postnord trucks at a past and parcel sorting centre

The role of automated sortation systems

Just as distribution hubs are now linking their yard management systems into their existing control systems and enterprise resource planning solutions, they are also able to hook into automated sortation systems.

An automated sorting system can complement other technologies to drive even greater efficiencies and reduce costs – at both the inbound and outbound – while meeting the demands of e-commerce and customer expectations for ever-shorter delivery times. 

The case of UK Mail

This was what UK Mail was facing when it implemented its automated sortation system. With e-commerce causing a dramatic rise in the number of parcels it had to process daily, UK Mail knew that it had to do something different to achieve faster processing of incoming parcels and shipment of parcels to its regional centres. 

UK Mail decided to integrate its yard management with the SCADA overview in its automated sortation system, in order to gain greater visibility into its operations. 

Trucks arrive at the CEP distribution center

UK Mail achieves greater efficiency through integrated systems

The technological integration has meant that floor operations managers also use the sortation system’s software suite statistics programme along with the SCADA overview to generate updates on operational performance. This has led to reductions in both operational and resources costs.

By combining a fully automated sortation system with its yard management, UK Mail has been able to  streamline the unloading function to meet one of its goals: to extend cut-off time for accep­ting parcels into the main hub for next-day delivery. 

At the inbound end of the process, the interconnected systems have allowed UK Mail to optimise its trailer and shunt movements to keep in-feed lines at a constantly busy level. The sorter controls, for example, can notify yard management if the sorter has free capacity so the yard managers can adjust their operations and shunt allocations accordingly. This has allowed UK Mail to achieve a typical swap-over time of just seven minutes, in addition to minimising downtime at the in-feed sections. It has also increased productivity by maintaining full capacity on the sorters.  

Integrated control systems also help CEP companies to optimise the costly last mile by reducing yard dwell time, keeping drivers on the road and enabling better allocation of resources.  

With the sortation system talking to the yard management system, companies can also eliminate issues such as drivers waiting too long at the gate to be let in by a security guard or having to drive around and look for a spot in the yard. 

Data analytics adds to the potential of integrated systems

Innovations in modern sortation systems can be applied to give even greater data-driven insights to CEP managers. Data analytics tools, for example, help CEP companies to further optimise their operations, such as improving throughput, reducing operational risk and lowering costs per parcel. Data analytics solutions can take real-time data from the sortation systems, collecting throughput data from inductions and discharges, re-circulations, discharge failures, scanner performance and alarms.

They can analyse the data to discover trends and patterns, helping operations managers make better and more informed decisions.

For example, control systems leveraging data analytics tools are able to reassign inbound trucks depending on which positions in the feed areas are experiencing low or high loads. Or predict when chutes will be full before discharging items and assign operators to prevent recirculations.

Through different data visualisation dashboards, CEP providers can gain greater transparency into all their processes, enabling them to transform their operations from "what we think we know" to "what we know".

Takeaway

In our view, the integration of automated sortation systems with other technological opportunities available to distribution centres is another option centres can be looking at to further optimise their overall operations. With greater communication between sortation processes and the other components of the supply chain network, CEP companies will gain superior visibility to their processes, end-to-end, from which they can reduce costs and resources.

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