Incompatibles are an increasing challenge for parcel centers, as the handling of big and bulky items requires additional manual labor that slows productivity rates and reduces automation efficiencies. Faced with an unplanned expansion or building a new facility to handle oversized parcels, major shippers are beginning to look at alternative automated solutions to keep all parcel operations under one roof and achieve desired throughput rates.

One way to address challenges in the parcel industry is to consider sortation and distribution technology that has proven successful in other industries. For example, tote-based transport and sortation systems have been used in airports around the world for a decade, carrying luggage, golf bags, and other items of the flying public. This technology is gaining attention from parcel companies as they seek solutions for handling the growing number of over- and odd-sized packages spurred by burgeoning e-commerce sales.

Tote-based technology can accommodate a broad array of packages — round, long, heavy, abnormally shaped — that cannot be placed on a traditional sort system. With this tote-based system, items are placed on a conveying system from an unload door then carried to a top-loading mechanism, where it is automatically fed onto a tote. Each individually controlled tote has an RFID chip enabling it to be tracked and traced along its journey throughout the facility.

This solution allows items that are oversized and irregularly shaped to be transported via a high-speed conveying system rather than handled manually. These systems can be designed to accommodate inclines, curves, and left and right turns at varying speeds. The technology is ready to go today and is a direct fit for Incompatible parcel operations.

Incorporating Smalls

An increasing number of small packages — typically defined as 12" to 16" long or less—also are challenging the industry’s throughput efficiencies. The traditional model within parcel facilities is to segregate smalls, regular parcels, and incompatibles to achieve optimum productivity.

The tremendous volume increases in smalls and incompatibles have customers now looking for technologies that can combine all of these functions and reduce the percentage of packages that cannot be transported and sorted automatically.

The concept of combining operations is developing throughout the industry. Line and loop sorting have traditionally been used in a single, segregated area of a parcel facility, but the changing parcel stream is spurring renewed thinking on how to interface automated systems throughout an entire facility.

Editor's note: You can read more on how shippers are tackling the oversized shipment problem in this article from last year.

Chad Thibodeaux is Sales Manager - Sortation & Distribution for BEUMER Corporation. A 20-year veteran of the Material Handling industry, Thibodeaux has a broad range of experience including engineering, project management, business development, and strategic planning. He holds an undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering and a Masters of Business Administration.