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Aug. 8 2006 04:42 PM

With almost ten and a half million registered vehicles, the Illinois Secretary of State (ISOS) office knew it had a daunting fulfillment task when the decision was made to redesign and issue motorists new license plates. Although it had not re-plated since 1985, it was familiar with the procedure. This time, however, the goal was to complete the job in half the time it took in 1985 and reduce the costs associated with the entire process.
 
Every aspect of the process would need to be improved, and shipping the plates via the U.S. Postal Service was one of the most critical areas of improvement. In 1985, every license plate was sorted by hand and physically matched with the ZIP Code of the registration. Matching all five digits was both time consuming and prone to errors. In many cases, the first three digits would be matched, and the plates would have to be sent to the Postal Service to have the final sort completed at the Postal Service facility.
 
Seventeen years ago, that was the only way to handle the volume. In addition to the time and labor inefficiencies involved in the process, there was no postage discount issued to the ISOS by the Postal Service. The cost to ship license plates to registrants was expensive, and the process took many days since the plates had to be routed to the Springfield post office.
 
ISOS management began its mission to find a solution that would both reduce the time it took to sort the license plates and also provide sortation to the fifth digit of the ZIP Code. This way, the plates would be presorted and could quickly be transferred by the Postal Service to the appropriate Regional Distribution Center (RDC).
 
The ISOS office awarded the consulting contract to UNISYS Corporation to implement the entire process. Since many different systems would have to work seamlessly together to reach maximum ROI, an entirely new process had to be designed that would integrate not only Internet and phone orders but the many local ISOS offices as well. All of the licensing forms, data systems and processes had to be replaced or completely redesigned, since factors such as the Internet weren�t even available in 1985.
 
Fulfillment efficiency begins in the warehouse. Convey or Store, Inc. (COS) offered the state of Illinois a warehouse solution that provided not only value for the cost but also provided a logical approach to a complicated process. Working with UNISYS, Inc., COS engineered a system to convey license plates with a sortation system that would have the capacity to sort each plate by the ZIP Code printed on the license registration. To process the new license plates so they would reach Illinois motorists quickly, a rate of 40,000 plates per day was calculated, or approximately 100 license plates a minute. While the speed was an issue that could be handled with a large enough system, the real challenge was that, due to space constraints, the sortation had to done in an area not to exceed 80 feet long by 30 feet wide, thus eliminating a more conventional solution. With order processing speeds at 100 per minute, bottlenecks would prove catastrophic. Therefore, proven reliability was necessary.
 
A demonstration for the ISOS management team was arranged at Quantum Conveyor�s facility in Northvale, New Jersey. All organizations involved � UNISYS, ISOS and COS � agreed that the Quantum sorter was best suited to this project. UNISYS not only required the ZIP Code data to be collected but also the license plate number as well. For customer service benefit, ISOS wanted to match all the plate and ZIP Code information together so it could be pulled up when a registrant called requesting the status of his plate. Two different barcodes were printed on the registration: one for the ZIP Code and the other for the license plate number. COS used standard IS8550 Holographic laser scanners by Metrologic because both barcodes had to be read at the maximum rate of 100 per minute. The scanners worked flawlessly and proved to be easy for the end user to set up.
 
The original fulfillment plan called for the license plates to be man-ually placed onto the conveyor belt prior to the scanning process. It was later decided that an automated induction feeding system would be better suited for this application. Already a few weeks into production when the change was decided, COS needed to find a device capable of feeding the sorter at this rate. License plates are essentially two dimensional and rigid, so a suction cup system was thought to be the best solution to pick and place the plate. However, since the plates were also shrink wrapped, the plastic covering created problems for the cups. COS consulted with Creative Automation of Passaic, New Jersey to design a robotic system that would use magnets to pick and place the plates. While one robotic device would perform to the specifications, a second was also implemented to act as a back up. Creative fully installed both the primary and the back up system in less than five weeks.
 
Working with its partners, COS executed the new system according to plan. Comparing the new process with the one in place back in 1985, manager of ISOS mail operations Terry Hoch says, �The system that Convey or Store provided has allowed us to mail twice as many plates in half the time while using the same amount of manpower. The old method took 15 employees nine hours to complete 12,000 plates. This new system sorts 22,000 plates in the same amount of time. Additionally, we now save three cents per plate, and with over six million plates to process, the savings alone justified the purchase.�
 
For more information, visit www.conveyorstore.com.
 

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