The company aeqoom technologies integrated two sorters from Böwe Systec into the operations of PNS. What made this implementation unique?

We started the project in June of last year. From PNS's perspective, it was a significant infrastructure project. Especially in the area of remittance, it was the first solution of its kind in Europe, which required close communication with the development department at Böwe Systec's manufacturing plant. A big challenge was to navigate through all the restrictions brought on by COVID-19 without any loss of momentum. Due to the situation in the autumn of last year, we had to handle everything through electronic communication.

You put the first sorter into trial operation in August, and it was fully deployed in the fall. Magazine Logistika experienced launch of the second sorter at the beginning of this year (we wrote about the project in detail in the March issue). What were the specifics of launching the sorter lines? What activities and tasks needed to be precisely fine-tuned in the trial mode?

Due to limited travel and general restrictions in Bavaria, several things could not be realized in the usual manner. Paper is a specific medium, and the mix of sorted shipments is also unique. Our technical department had to fine-tune all the mechanical innovations remotely with the development department in Augsburg.

Sorters have potential in the area of reverse logistics, which was confirmed in the case of implementation at PNS.

Yes, this mainly applies to the identification of products for the purpose of restocking and subsequent consolidation of these shipments for further distribution. This particularly applies to magazines with higher added value for readers. With it comes a longer lifespan and a higher need for redistribution. PNS replaced the previous two-step process with the current one-step online processing. A solution based on such a principle makes sense not only for magazines, but also for footwear or clothing, for example. Everything is also audited through camera reading and software solutions.

I assume that your custom-made software has been refined through trial operation. Could you please elaborate on the challenges involved in integrating it with the internal IT systems of PNS?

A largepart of the functionality was developed specifically for the project, exceptfor the sorting strategy software and integration. Since PNS has modern ITsystems, integration was straight forward. We added connectors to the mostcommonly used ERP systems on the Czech market developed long before the startof this project. Therefore, it was merely a matter of configuring the system onour part.

For software projects, a good analysis and overall implementation speed are essential. Thanks to our consulting know-how and the maturity of our platform, we can fully meet these expectations. The advantage of external development compared to internal development is mainly expertise. By being fast in implementation, we achieve another, equally important goal. Our solution must be economically advantageous compared to internal development, in other words, cheaper.

The implementation of the reading technology is not a routine task, I suppose...

Reading is one thing, but online database operations are another. Two Simex Flexi machines can process up to 60,000 products per hour. From a database perspective, this translates to 16 database queries per second. In terms of overall database operations, this project is one of the largest logistics projects in the Czech Republic. Even the camera reading in this project is not merely a reading of barcodes. Simultaneously with the codes, the photographs of the products are scanned and stored in the database.

I was intrigued to learn that you also developed carts to accelerate the transportation of magazines and envelopes between individual workstations for PNS. The aeqoom’s domain is software solutions.

While aeqoom's domain is software solutions, in logistics, a good solution must have overlap. Software goes hand in hand with sorters and conveyors. At the same time, you also need to solve the throughput of subsequent processes.

The key criterion is not the throughput of sorters, but the throughput of the entire logistics centre. We developed carts tailored to achieve this goal.

Regarding the sorting systems provided by you, you also offer maintenance services. Could you elaborate on the specific maintenance requirements for Böwe Systec lines and what services are provided to clients following the installation of the systems?

Our company's motto "Implementing efficient solutions for your profit" can only be fully achieved if high-quality service follows smooth project implementation. Thanks to a sophisticated system of preventive maintenance scheduling, we minimize downtime caused by malfunctions. In case of any issues, we can contractually guarantee a response time of one hour from the reported problem and subsequent resolution within two hours from the report.

Our service department covers a wide range of equipment, from complex technologies and software solutions to simple conveyors. As for the financial aspect, we follow the general rule that our service can not only be of higher quality and faster but also financially advantageous compared to internal service provision with one's own resources. This way, our clients can fully focus on their core business.

Implementing new sorters will bring PNS a reduction in operating costs and an increase in efficiency. Could you elaborate on the additional potential gained from the implementation of sorters in the future?

A major added value of our solutions is the consolidation of shipments. Picking is a very labor-intensive and thus financially demanding process. By consolidating shipments on a sorter, you do not only speed up the process but also significantly reduce labor costs.

At PNS, manual and robotic work currently coexist. However, in the future, will robotic work prevail even more?

In projects, we generally adhere to the Pareto principle. We look for ways to solve 80 percent of the problems with 20 percent of the investment. In my opinion, 100 percent robotization is still a chimera in terms of return on investment for at least five to seven years. Although we look at the issue through this perspective, we still see tremendous potential for software robotics and hardware automation. In the overwhelming majority of cases, we achieve a return on investment of around 24 months in this area.

Is the software solution provided by you open to further modifications and improvements? Who performs them and could you provide examples if possible?

Our solution is analyzed, designed, integrated, and developed by our own team. Our software platform ae-sort enables easy, fast, and seamless integration into the customer environment thanks to its functionality, architecture, and advanced API interface. Changes, modifications, or extensions to the sorting logic can be easily and quickly made.

What is the expected lifespan of the production sorters supplied by Böwe Systec through your company, and what is the warranty period for them?

We place great emphasis on selecting the right technological partners. In the area of high-speed sorting and envelope handling, our partner is the German conglomerate Böwe Systec, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. Throughout its history, the company has been delivering high-quality and timeless products. We have the same high expectations of our other technological partners as well. As a result, we are able to service technologies that are up to 15 years old. Although we are relatively new to the logistics and e-commerce industry, we bring the principle of short return on investment and long technology lifespan to this market as well.

How do you see the market for mail sorters evolving at present? What trends are emerging? Can the Czech market be compared to the Western European market, despite its relatively smaller size?

On the Czech market, processing of shipments in the order in which they are stored in the system still dominates. However, by creating batches from orders, it is possible to process significantly more customers with lower staffing load in a wide range of cases. Batch processing is widely used in Western Europe. To implement such processing, a flexible Sorting Strategy Software is required, which we have successfully developed. Our flexible platform with a simple business model is progressive and highly effective. Programming is replaced by mere system settings, which can be handled by trained operators without programming knowledge.

How is your company coping with the challenges brought by the coronavirus era and the post-coronavirus era?

The arrival of COVID-19 took us, like everyone else, by surprise. Our company had already been using a system of a suitable combination of remote and office work long before Covid. It was nothing new for us. We have been practicing it internally for several years. However, the novelty came in communication with clients. It was almost exclusively moved to the electronic world. It turned out, for example, that such communication is very effective for project management. However, it also has its pitfalls. Last year has confirmed that every project has milestones when it is necessary to discuss everything calmly at one table.

Does the increasing competition between e-shops and the pressure for speed and reliability in delivering orders lead to higher demand for your services?

E-commerce businesses are experiencing unprecedented growth. It is natural that they continue to devote a large part of their time and potential to developing and utilizing business opportunities. However, as turnover grows, so do costs. The increasing competition is putting significant pressure on efficiency. This is where we come in. We are already working with a number of clients on changing their internal processes.

Last year, you noted that if Czech companies start using the same technologies as those in Western Europe, they must necessarily succeed due to lower personnel costs and their talent. Is this happening?

I believe that it is starting to happen. I am very pleased about it and wish everyone the best of luck. However, in the European context, we cannot fail to notice the Czech paradox. This is the discrepancy between the length of the sales cycle compared to the length of investment return. Let's compare the situation on our market, for example, with the Netherlands. We achieve a return on investment of around two years for most projects, which is comparable.

However, if we look at the length of the sales phase, we find that we are significantly lagging behind. The Czech paradox lies in the fact that the average length of the sales phase for projects in our country is longer than the investment return period. This is not the case, for example, in the Netherlands, where companies are able to make decisions significantly faster. In this context, they still have a significant advantage over Czech companies.

Can you reveal some of your plans for the near future?

I would divide our plans into several areas. In the software area, we are launching a new release of our Sorting Strategy Software this summer. We have started working on a predictive-based solution for internal logistics planning, which is a major challenge for us.

We are also looking for ways to improve our business-consulting services. And in the fall, we are opening a Solution LAB. It will be located in our assembly and production hall where customers can test common technical challenges of their projects in practice.

Our service offerings are also dynamically evolving. We are expanding not only the portfolio of serviced technologies but also the forms of service delivery.

Since last year, your service technicians have been using a fleet of eco-friendly vehicles. Is your company aiming for carbon neutrality?

I think it is time for all of us to seriously consider the sustainability of our civilization's development. This applies to business, lifestyle, and the environment. We have approached this issue comprehensively.

In the first phase, we significantly reduced unproductive and wasted time on the road by using the right mix of home office and office work. In recent days, we have completed the second phase, which is the electrification of our car fleet. Over the past year, we have modernized our fleet, replacing traditional combustion engines with plug-in hybrids and electric cars. I am very pleased that all colleagues in our company approached this project with seriousness. Driver discipline is particularly important for plug-in hybrids, in addition to charging strategies.

The results are very interesting. Hybrids and electric cars now make up 90 percent of our fleet. If we calculate this number based on the total kilometers driven, it is also 90 percent. Overall fuel costs have decreased by 65 percent, proportionally to the same mileage. The third phase of the project is currently underway, where we are installing a photovoltaic power plant that can produce 100 percent of the energy needed for our back-office operations. In addition to the positive impact of this project on the environment, we have also achieved very interesting savings. We have taken the first step towards carbon neutrality and confirmed that the terms "ecological" and "economic" do not have to be mutually exclusive.

Source: Ekonom Logistika

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