Trends in the sortation technology – From food products up to medicines

Thomas Wiesmann, Director Sales Logistic Systems at BEUMER Group.

Customers are shopping more and more online, and not just since COVID-19. However, the pandemic has even strengthened this behaviour. With the increasing e-commerce, courier, express and parcel services need to supply the consumers in a reliable and faster way, all while being able to handle different types of goods. The capacity of their sortation and distribution systems often decides on their competitiveness. Thomas Wiesmann from BEUMER Group knows which trends owners are following, how they can react to them and where the journey will take them.

The way people shop has been changing since before COVID-19, but hardly anything has had such a rapid and sustainable impact on shopping behaviour as the corona virus. As many shops had to close during the past months, even more consumers are buying online. “This structure change is developing in accelerated time during the pandemic,” says Thomas Wiesmann, Director Sales Logistic Systems at BEUMER Group.

This considerably increases the competitive pressure on courier, express and parcel services (CEP). In order to hold their own against competitors, the future success of mail order companies and logistics service providers will depend even more on the performance of their distribution centres. The companies intend to save costs with their systems, to pursue a more environmentally conscious approach and above all follow market trends. Market trends? “Technology with regard to the distribution of different goods is becoming more and more complex,” knows Wiesmann.

Not only are the numbers of goods to be dispatched increasing, but also the sizes are more and more different. The range has become more varied,” is how the BEUMER expert sums up his impressions gained during his many years of experience with customers. Parcel sizes are tending to decrease, although large parcels are still being sent. At the beginning of the pandemic, not only the online retailers selling hygiene products, breathing masks, pasta and canned food registered considerable turnover gains. Food, drugstore goods and medicines generally showed strong growth. Thomas Wiesmann is sure that these products will continue to establish themselves at a higher level in online retailing.

Apart from flexibility, the throughput is playing an increasingly important role. Online trading also implies that more and more customers want to see the goods they ordered in the morning on their doorstep the same day. “The sortation and distribution systems are designed to support distributors in these demanding tasks and can be adapted flexibly and quickly to the new conditions”.

Owners of logistic and distribution centres are looking for high-performance systems, as their existing technology is often not sufficient anymore. In addition, the number of sortation and distribution systems required is constantly increasing: service providers are increasingly building small, decentralised distribution centres close to their customers in order to be able to supply them even faster. This is becoming more important to ensure that they remain loyal to them.

More performance required

In order to meet the performance challenges, the trend goes towards more automation, enabling a more ergonomic operation of the sorter. Employees are being relieved and the companies can work more efficiently and thus increase the throughput. They are prepared for future capacity forecasts. Furthermore, automation improves the visibility and the traceability of the dispatched goods.

Maintenance: only if required

With the support of data analysis, it is possible to identify actual operating hours and loads. The owners use it to reliably monitor their systems and see in time when an error is going to occur. This enables them to maintain their system at the perfect time. “Maintenance cycles can be adjusted to the actual load,” says Wiesmann.

The more intensively a company knows the operating conditions of the system, the better they can benefit from this opportunity. This is because the machine will learn to learn, and instead of just recognising that something is wrong, it will also find out the cause, supported by the information obtained. This will enable the sorters to independently generate a perfectly fitting maintenance plan in the future.

Service personnel will only replace a component when it is really necessary and not according to a fixed cycle Data-controlled analysis is thus becoming more and more popular with operators. After all, sensors are already part of every system and able to generate and process huge amounts of data. Based on this acquisition of information, further services may be added in the long term. Wiesmann is thinking of video coding for machine learning. He also envisages cloud-based optical character recognition to convert scanned images with text into machine-readable text. Currently the data analysis is especially based on existing operational data.

In the future, however, it is intended to use more sensors and other systems able to collect much more data. The sorter will then be able to continuously make processes smarter and increase the level of automation, a clear competitive edge for any operator. “Our solutions permit us to set trends and to support our customers in future growth,” says Wiesmann. “We make it possible for them to respond quickly and reliably to changes in the market – and not only in Corona times”.

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