As e-commerce continues to increase the volume of freight and package shipment at a significant rate, United Parcel Service has optimized its material handling operations in many ways with equipment and processes designed to move product over long distances in its facilities all over the world.These automation improvements have helped reduce costs associated with the internal movement of materials. However, non-conveyable items, those that cannot be transported on conveyor systems due to their unique size, shape or bulk, still require UPS to deploy some form of labor-intensive transport to distribute goods throughout its facilities.
Because non-conveyables required human intervention to facilitate their travel, UPS noted that this part of the operation relied solely on manual operators to keep product moving through the facility. The company wanted to apply some form of automation to the process but recognized that automation typically works best in applications with repetitive functions and predictable environments, both of which were notably absent in its dynamic operations.
Traditional mobile automated systems would require significant modifications to the existing operation, which was not an option for UPS. It was clear that an automated system for this operation would have to be more flexible, allowing for unplanned situations and coexisting with pedestrian workers in a safe, yet productive fashion.