Royal Mail rolls out advanced technology to speed up parcel sorting in its Bristol Mail Centre

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Royal Mail has installed automated parcel sortation machinery in its Bristol Mail Centre to speed up the processing of parcels.

The new technology replaces a manual sorting process that can be both time consuming and physically demanding, often requiring two separate sorts to get parcels in the right place for dispatch.

It will also increase Royal Mail’s capacity to process parcels at peak volumes by enhancing efficiency. Currently, about 12% of Royal Mail’s parcels are machine sorted and the company plans to increase that to over 80% within five years. 

The Parcel Sorting Machine (PSM) is an intelligent system of conveyor belts and scanning technology that automatically sorts parcels for dispatch to mail centers across the country.

The move comes as the company upgrades its national network by rolling out parcel sorting machinery to all mail centers across the UK. The technology is being deployed to better manage the growing volumes of parcels that enter the Royal Mail network on a daily basis. It brings the sortation of parcels more in line with the sortation of letters, 90% of which are processed by automated machinery.

The parcel sorting technology is now operational in 12 mail centers in Bristol, Swindon, Hemel Hempstead, Chelmsford, Greenford, Warrington, South Midlands (Northampton), Jubilee, Gatwick, Birmingham, Leeds and Preston.

Under the new system, parcels are tipped onto a conveyor belt at the front end of the machine before being manually placed onto individual cells on two conveyor belts. The parcels then enter dimension weight scan areas, which use bar scanning technology to read the destination of 2D barcoded items. For those items that do not have a barcode, the machine uses optical character recognition technology to read the postcodes.

Once the machine has registered the destination address of a parcel, the item travels along the conveyor belt on the sorter until it reaches the appropriate container. At this point, the tray opens up and the parcel drops into the container ready to be taken to vehicles for dispatch.

The machine is capable of sorting parcels to 81 different destinations within the Royal Mail network, covering the entire length and breadth of the country. It can handle parcels from the size of a CD up to an item slightly bigger than a 45 x 35 x 20cm (17 x 13 x 7in) tray with a weight range of up to 3kg (6.6 lb).

“The roll-out of this new technology is transforming the way Royal Mail processes parcels, which are continuing to grow in volumes,” said Simon Barker, national operations director, Royal Mail. “The technology will help us to speed up the passage of parcels to local mail centers. We have worked closely with our unions throughout this program, and colleagues who work on the machine have said they prefer the quality of work compared with manual sorting.”

Watch a video of the new sorting technology here.

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With over a decade of experience as a business and technology journalist working in B2B publishing, Hazel first joined UKi in 2011. After taking 18 months off to bring up her daughter and try her hand at marketing copywriting, she returned in January 2018 to do what she loves best – magazine editing! She is now the editor of UKi's Passenger Terminal World and Parcel and Postal Technology International magazines.

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