We had the opportunity to interview Marc Sarmiento, Head of Projects & Innovation at Austrian Post for his insights on their revolutionary Rapid Unloading System in collaboration with "PHS Logistics Technics (PHS)". This innovation received a PostEurop Innovation Award last year.
Q: Can you tell us more about your Rapid Unloading System? What were the impact both for the business and for your employees? What are the benefits?
We are happy to have the Rapid Unloading System up and running in our parcel distribution centre in Allhaming, Austria. It is the first of its kind and we will continue to retro-fit existing locations and also equip newly built locations.
Since its introduction, we have used it for unloading swap bodies from consignors. We have received positive feedback, e.g. that they were surprised how seamless the introduction of the Rapid Unloader swap bodies is as there are no major adaptions in their loading process. More and more customers are knocking on our doors because they are interested in how this could change their logistics process too.
Our employees benefit from the easier workload when unloading swap bodies. Existing swap bodies, that do not have the Rapid Unloader system built inside, need to be unloaded manually. An employee is unloading an average of 1,000 parcels per hour and depending on the origin has to lift a few tons. With the new Rapid Unloader swap bodies, all they need to do is press a button to automatically dock the station to the swap body and the parcels are conveyed out of the vehicle. Once they are out, they only need to check if the labels are faced up and if not, rotate it so it does.
To sum it up, both ends of the process are happy with the newly introduced Rapid Unloader system.
Q: Can you tell us more about the start-up, PHS Logistics Technics? What inspired this partnership?
We founded PHS together with two brilliant minds – Dr. Andreas Wolfschluckner and Dr. Matthias Fritz. Both approached us a few years ago to present their study on fully automated unloading and showed us their simulation. It immediately caught our attention because it was both a smart and a cost-effective solution at the same time.
We decided to try this out by investing in a proof-of-concept. They built the very first prototype that we equipped with test parcels to see if their idea worked. Their simulation proved accurate, and the results of the test runs were convincing.
This marked the birth of the start-up. From that moment on, we decided to collaborate closely together to put the Rapid Unloader in production series into the market. We founded the start-up to create a platform for uninterrupted R&D activities. At the same time, we were keen to test everything that came out of their laboratory. After building their second prototype, we decided to install it in our newest distribution centre to test it under real-life conditions. This is how our joint success story started.
Q: What are the key learnings that you would like to share with other postal operators who are looking to partner with start-ups?
We learned a lot with this cooperation. The main take-away is that each start-up needs his own free space to work fast and effectively on his product. The last thing they need is some corporate policies and restrictions. That is why it was the best decision to keep the founders autonomous and busy in their own company.
We also learned that it is easier to convince decision makers in the corporate world to invest in great ideas and solutions once they see first results. Therefore, my suggestion is to test prototypes early and check, if the product is capable of solving the addressed problem, as long as the prototype is still cheap to produce. Try out and succeed or fail early in the process.
Lastly, you need to have visionaries in the start-ups. It is not enough to invest in a stand-alone product. At the end, you are investing in people who drive innovation. The more visionary the people are, the more fun you are going to have in the long run.
Q: Were you already able to deliver this optimized solution for other parcel & postal companies on the market?
We had the opportunity to present the first series to big clients. They were all impressed and interested in the Rapid Unloader system and are currently evaluating the usability in their own facilities. At the moment, we are in negotiations with some and are looking forward to delivering to other companies soon.
Q: What are your future plans for further development of your supply chain?
We are working on each process step in the parcel supply chain. It starts with unloading and loading vehicles and end with autonomous delivery. Each process has so much potential for further development so we are looking forward to present you more new solutions soon.
Submissions have been received and the winner of the 2019 Innovation Award will be announced at the PostEurop Plenary Assembly in Jersey on 10-11 October. Stay tuned.