Machine learning is introduced to sorting lines

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The Viapost logistics site in Chelles is a routing centre for the magazine press resulting from the acquisition of the company STP a few years ago.

The Viapost logistics site in Chelles is a routing centre for the magazine press resulting from the acquisition of the company STP a few years ago.

But due to the decline in press volumes, it has seen its range of services increase to include the processing of bulky mail and imported small international parcels on behalf of its parent company La Poste.

The largest Viapost site in France with its 25,000 m2, the increase in flows to be processed in the postal world has led it to equip its sorting line with a character recognition system (OCR) equipped with artificial intelligence capable of improving and maintaining a high rate of reading of labels, postcodes and addresses.

IPC standards

Postal flows processed at Chelles are subject to the rules of the International Post Corporation (IPC), which, in order to control the quality of service of its members, randomly places RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags in international mailings.

This organization requires all its members to equip themselves with RFID scanning stations at every stage of their distribution chain to produce statistics and performance indicators.

The IPC rules, however, do not standardise the positioning of information such as the address with the postcode on mail and parcels, which is essential in the automated processing of its members, including the La Poste Group and its subsidiary, Viapost.

The Chelles site relies on an automated process for 97% of its post while the remaining 3% are managed manually for reasons of weight (more than 2 kg), shapes and/or dimensions. These flows are processed by operators equipped with a voice preparation system designed by Viapost.

Self-learning automated systems

After being received at the Chelles site, which operates on a 3/8 basis with 500 to a thousand people depending on the period, the containers of small parcels and mail are redistributed using a custom-made mechanized device, created by Viapost and Manergo that supplies the injection stations. There, operators position the post and parcels in such a way as to reveal the destination coordinates and remove the products which cannot be sorted mechanically.

At a rate of 20,000 objects per hour, the sorting line fitted by Fives includes an OCR reading system developed by Sick that scans coordinates as they pass at 2 m/s.

"The reading rate is 82% and is improving permanently thanks to OCR's self-learning capabilities," says Lysiane T’Sjoën, Viapost's Logistics Network Manager.

The remaining 18% are expected to decrease and are sorted by manual "video-coding" after being removed from the automated sorting line. With a significantly lower non-reading rate, the magazine press uses another mechanized channel of the same rate.

Open 24/7, the Chelles site has up to 220 inbound/outbound HGV movements per day !

Sorting to the address

Once this postcode sorting phase is completed, the press bundles and mail are sent directly to the postal centres located in Ile-de-France and Northern France or to a hub in Chilly-Mazarin supplying the postal centres located in the southern part of France.

The parcels are sent to another 18,000 m2 Viapost site in Saint-Thibault-les-Vignes, also in Seine-et-Marne, which employs more than 170 people. There, postal parcels join those processed for e-retailers and undergo a new sorting process, to the address this time. Custom-designed by Viapost, mechanized sorting lines process parcels weighing up to 25 kg at a rate of 6,500 objects per hour.

"The automated reading rate is about 90%," says Lysiane T’Sjoën, knowing that, as in Chelles, deployed OCR systems regularly improve their performance by machine learning. They are complemented by manual "video-coding" devices and for the processing of out-of-gauge parcels.

At the end of these sorting processes "at the last kilometre", parcels grouped in containers and roll containers undergo a final automated check by reading their barcodes before being shipped to 1,250 postal distribution centres.

Industrial maintenance too

Integrated since 2016 in a Lean Management approach called Apollo, all of Viapost's expertise (routing, e-logistics, transport organisation, etc.) is also offered to third-party customers.

This is available with the possibility, for logistics, of configuring the mechanized tools on the sites of the latter or on the 24 national platforms of the Viapost network. Since then, mechanized systems have taken an important place in the company's strategy. Logically, Viapost decided to incorporate industrial maintenance services into its service offering a year ago.

"At the work site or assigned to the customer site, our 25 technicians are trained in mechanized systems regardless of their brands: sorters, rockers, transit, conveyors, scanning stations, OCR, WCS...” explained Arnaud Saint-Guilhem, its General Director.

At the end of its first financial year, industrial maintenance represents €1M out of a 2018 turnover of €580M, broken down almost at parity between logistics and transport.

Source : Stratégies Logistique

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