Editor’s note: This blog post is part of a three-part series on A Day in the Life of a Parcel. This first segment introduces a few game-changing innovations early in the parcel lifecycle. Subsequent posts will cover breakthroughs in the later lifecycle stages.
Of the many factors driving innovation in the world of e-commerce package and parcel supply chain and logistics, “speed” or “same-day delivery” has become the Holy Grail of modern-day Silk Road crusaders.
This hope is fueled by a number of game-changing innovations creating new value in the economics of supply chain and logistics – innovations based on years of experience in printing, labeling, processing and delivering mail workflows operating at tens of thousands of pieces per hour.
But how does it all come together?
A transaction is initiated when a consumer places an order for an item from an online merchant (Amazon.com, for example) that has customer-relationship-management and enterprise-resource-planning back-end systems in place to process the order, validate its identity, accept a payment, and trigger the fulfillment process.
But someone still has to put the order together.
Most pick-pack-ship distribution centers have human operators who are fed a line of items (many individual SKUs), insert the items – along with filler material – into pre-made packing boxes, and then glue or tape it shut. Even the best e-commerce players have told me first-hand that their operators complete an average of 75 boxes an hour, perhaps even fewer when the boss isn’t looking.
We have learned some lessons from our many years in the mail-automation business, and to me, that was just not efficient enough.
Jerry DeRome, the vice president and general manager of our mail-inserting and finishing business, often reminds me that in high-volume candy bar production, manufacturers don’t create a candy bar and then stuff it into a premade wrapper. Instead, they wrap film around candy bars at very high speed. The concept of wrapping as opposed to inserting is a fascinating engineering phenomenon creating significant speed, efficiency and cost advantages in high-speed manufacturing. In fact, modern mail wrappers/invelopers use this process to create up to 40,000 personalized mailpieces an hour.
It was important for us at Bell and Howell to combat this inefficiency in the packaging business by using similar techniques. We developed a system that measures the dimensions and weight of the SKU object, and then dynamically creates packages in-line by cutting, scoring and folding carton stock automatically. Our CartonWrap system dynamically creates up to 1000 ready-to-ship boxed parcels per hour, all without manual intervention.
This solution not only deals with labor automation and improving workflow speeds, but also eliminates filler material required in the traditional one-size-fits-all packaging operation, and helps, as customers tell us, to reduce dimensional weight (DIM weight) expenses.
Watch the CartonWrap in action.
Editor’s note: Part two of this series discusses innovations in package labeling and efficiency improvements for the carriers. Part three covers the last mile and return logistics.
Watch highlights of Ramesh Ratan’s presentation on A Day in the Life of a Parcel at MAILCOM 2016.