Sponsored news: Asendia UK accelerates parcel processing with automated sorting and robotics for over-labelling at its Heathrow distribution centre - CILT(UK)
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Sponsored news: Asendia UK accelerates parcel processing with automated sorting and robotics for over-labelling at its Heathrow distribution centre

27 July 2022/Categories: CILT, Membership, Corporate News

  • An industry first – robotic parcel labelling
  • Multi-million-pound investment speeds up parcel processing, provides improved accuracy
  • Six robots can label 7,200 parcels per hour, preparing them for outbound shipment
  • Multi-carrier selections available, accessing both postal and commercial global networks
  • Automated inline weight, dimensions and photo capture introduced for every package
  • Sorting and routing can be designed at customer level based on a wide variety of criteria to ensure tailor-made bespoke customer-led network options
  • Increases overall hub capacity; future proofing for further future growth in e-commerce to support leading UK retailers


Asendia UK has successfully installed automated sorting and six new robots for over-labelling at its parcel processing centre at Heathrow, fully operational from the end of May 2022.


The newly automated system will drive a significant parcel throughput increase on behalf of retailers, e-commerce brands and other clients, achieving a rate of up to 7,200 parcels per hour, with the site open seven days a week, and able to operate 24 hours per day. Asendia UK has invested £2.5m of CAPEX in these improvements


Parcels arrive onsite and an automated cross-belt sorter, with scanners, printers, digital photography and six robots together take care of the relabelling, routing, sorting, weighing and dimension-checking of parcels. The system has maximum flexibility for despatch, able to sort into bags, pallet boxes, or onward into air containers.


The automation project aims to improve capacity / throughput for customers, largely e-commerce retailers. The Heathrow hub is now operational 24 hours a day.


O&I Consulting provided project management expertise, and other key partners included technology automation specialists, Falcon Autotech, an Indian firm supplying the sortation solution, and UK-based WSS which supplied engineering and technical design oversight as well as installation services.  Asendia also drew on Dorchester-based Loop Technologies, which specialises in customised robotics. Loop’s experience ranges from robotic arms for labelling fruit for supermarkets to equipping robotics for aerospace projects. The use of robotics for parcel labelling is believed to be an industry first. 


How the automated system at Heathrow works

All parcels are delivered to the centre and loaded onto one of the infeed belts. An automated overhead scanner then captures barcode details and an image of the label. The weight is then added from the inline scales and the data is shared via an API with the Asendia system, to enable carrier selection and label generation, mainly through the proprietary carrier label library which Asendia has developed. [Link to video] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IkeTrfTZ8dA


The Asendia system processes the label details while the parcel travels up to the robotic over-labelling cell. The robotic cell scans every parcel and creates a 3D image which includes the exact location of every barcode on the parcel. It then checks with the Asendia system to see whether a final mile label is required. This can be done for parcels and packets of different shapes, sizes and materials. The label is generated and printed in either 6x4 or A5 format and the robot applies it directly over the original, ensuring the label is placed within the boundaries of the parcel and taking into consideration the parcel shape. Customs paperwork can also be printed as well if needed.  The parcel then enters the cross-belt sorter which is designed to handle all retailer parcel types.


The ‘DIMS tower’ captures essential dimensions, takes a photo, and scans the final mile label – required to complete routing and determine which outfeed to sort the parcel to. Parcels are allocated to the correct chute and drop into either a bag or pallet box. Each chute position is designed to facilitate sortation to bags, magnums, cages or pallet boxes to provide flexibility and future proof the design. Once full, the chute auto-closes and the pallet or bag is prepared for outbound shipment. The barcodes for every package are linked to a unique container ID, enabling increased visibility and automated data processing.


Efficiency benefits will lead to quicker delivery times

Asendia’s investment in automation and robotic over-labelling will increase the Heathrow site’s facility capacity, and speed up parcel processing allowing for earlier flights and road haulage departures.


Luis Barros, COO at Asendia UK said: “Retailers, many of whom have fast-growing e-commerce audiences around the world, will benefit directly from seeing their parcels pass through our facility faster than ever. It’s not surprising several big brand names have already signed up to use the facility.” 


He added: “Having volumetrics for all parcels will help with revenue protection and better control of sizing, which is a key driver within distribution networks. Equally, having photos of all parcels is a very good security benefit.”


Commenting on the investment, Simon Batt Asendia UK CEO said: “The successful launch of our new automated parcels hub is the culmination of a very complex project. The team worked incredibly hard to get this up and running and I’m very proud of all involved. We have future-proofed our core Heathrow facility for some years to come, to further grow with our e-commerce retailers and build on the successes of the past few years.”


Asendia is a global leader in international e-commerce and mail business, harnessing the power of e-commerce fulfilment technology to transform the complex world of deliveries into a simple, seamless experience. Through recent business wins, Asendia  UK has a growing client base of major brand names such as ASOS, Boohoo, Boden, Chilly’s, Bali Body and Urban Outfitters.


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