Editor’s note: This article is part two of a three-part series on A Day in the Life of a Parcel. The first part introduced a few game-changing innovations early in the parcel lifecycle. This segment covers innovations in package labeling and efficiency gains for the carrier.

One of the primary goals of any distribution center operator is to move product through the facility as quickly, flexibly, and efficiently as possible. Once a package is picked and packed, it still needs a shipping label on it.

This is another area that is ripe for game-changing innovation. Traditional print-and-apply labeling systems are limited by a number of design and label-material choices. In almost every operation, the labeling function slows throughput, especially in environments where parcels of various sizes are being shipped.

By completely re-thinking the process of applying labels, today’s modern, high-tech labeling systems have more than doubled the throughput of the labeling operation, and eliminate an important bottleneck in the production line.

For example, high-performance print-and-apply labeling systems that use liner-free labels can average up to 70 labels per minute on packages that can vary by as much as 36” (1m). This performance is enabled by integrating the print, cut, and apply functions into a movable, dynamic head unit, and by the fact that the liner-free labels require no label peeling and generate no backing waste. Liner-free label technology delivers 80% more labels per roll compared to traditional labelers, minimizing roll changeover time and reducing waste.

Additional verification systems ensure that the right label was applied to the right parcel, and then it’s ready to go out the door.

Other important advances in high-volume labeling systems include variable length labels (eliminating the need for dedicated systems for each label size); label-on-label stacking that can apply return labels, packing slips, and shipping labels on top of one another; and self-sharpening and auto-lubricating components.

Efficiency Gains for the Carrier

The next stage of the workflow involves processing and introducing parcels into a carrier network.

The goal here is to lower the cost of parcel fulfillment and delivery by automating the tasks of reading, weighing, labeling, and sorting parcels or flats. Modern parcel-management and sortation systems operate at speeds of up to 5,000 parcels per hour, paying for themselves in a very short time by displacing the need for extra manual labor.

Last August, the US Postal Service reported that it had successfully tested new small-package sorting equipment at five plants across the country. After installing the machines early in 2015, USPS found that throughput increased by roughly 1,000 more small parcels per hour. The machines exceeded expectations, and USPS plans to install the new equipment at 26 sites across the United States.

It should be noted that such impressive gains in productivity cannot be sustained without regular maintenance and repair. Scheduling regular preventive maintenance helps keep parcel-sorting systems up and running, and can prevent costly work stoppages.

Our company has worked with a number of private posts in Europe who successfully confronted the problem of increasing parcel and small-packet volumes by implementing automated parcel-sorting systems.

In part three of the Day in the Life of a Parcel series, I will address the last mile and return logistics.

Ramesh Ratan is CEO of Bell and Howell. He can be reached at Ramesh.Lakshmi-Ratan@bhemail.com.