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Surefire sorting results

sure sort

Khurshed Mirza, Director of Warehouse Automation (APAC) at OPEX, and Glen Urquhart, Sales Manager at Dexion Liverpool, describe how implementing OPEX’s Sure Sort system for an innovative local 3PL revolutionised its operations. 

NPFulfilment is a 3PL provider that has carved out a niche for itself in small order fulfilment, says Glen Urquhart, Sales Manager at Dexion Liverpool. Dexion – a systems integrator – has a long working relationship with OPEX, which creates innovative warehouse automation solutions, and sports a presence in five continents with 31 of the Fortune 100 companies as key clients.

But roughly five years ago, NPFulfilment was faced with a challenge in need of a solution. 

“The problem that NPFulfilment was running into was picking a large number of small orders as customer behaviour was changing,” says Glen. “By small orders I mean small dimensionally – as well as in terms of volume and weight – and ‘small’ in the sense of there being only one or two items per order. And this is your classic e-commerce order fulfilment challenge.”

Both Glen and Khurshed Mirza, Director, Warehouse Automation APAC at OPEX, refer to NPFulfilment CEO Rodney Bartley as a “visionary” who has always been looking over the horizon to see what advanced technology could be implemented to guarantee the best service offerings to their customers.

“Rodney did a lot of research and homework to see what was available across the market,” Glen says. “At a tradeshow in Chicago he came across OPEX’s Sure Sort system and was able to see it in action. It was exactly what Rodney was after. So, he engaged OPEX, and then I was brought in to assist bringing the equipment to Australia and implementing it for use in Australia – the first time Dexion Liverpool has implemented a Sure Sort in the Australian context. It was exciting for us.”

sure sort
Glen Urquhart, Sales Manager at Dexion Liverpool.

THE SURE SORT SYSTEM

The Sure Sort system has its origins, says Khurshed, in a 2005 mail automation system that sorted mail into various locations using autonomous robotic vehicles. 

“That was then further refined, and an offshoot was the Sure Sort, which is an automatic sortation system – or what we could commonly call an automatic order consolidator,” Khurshed says. “The basic idea is that you pick a large batch of items, bring it to the Sure Sort – whether manually or through a conveyor – and then drop each singular item onto the Sure Sort, which then sorts the items into predetermined sort locations while occupying a very small warehouse footprint.”

A key advantage to the Sure Sort, continues Khurshed, is its scalability. 

“As a piece of machinery – the scalability of the Sure Sort is superb,” he says. “It’s a solution where you can scale up in terms of the number of sort locations as well as the throughput of the system. You could go to a maximum of 11 expansion modules, which would give you a length of 14 metres, and a maximum throughput of 2400 items per hour.  Additional iBOT robots can be added, too. And what is an iBOT? It’s a self-charging, autonomous robotic vehicle that runs within the aisles of the Sure Sort with 100 per cent access to all sort locations.”

On those terms alone the simplicity and reliability of the Sure Sort system is an amazing advantage for a small footprint, flexible 3PL like NPFulfilment, Khurshed says. But its advantages go beyond that, into the realm of sustainability. 

“It runs on Wi-Fi technology, so it communicates with the controller using a common technology, plus there are no batteries,” he says. “It has ultra-capacitors that power the iBOT. The iBOT regenerates and recharges as it rolls down the columns, thereby giving the consumers very low energy consumption while the machine is running.”

To illustrate just how energy-efficient the Sure Sort system is, Khurshed provides a telling comparison. “To give you an equation, a full-length Sure Sort system’s consumption of electrical energy is equivalent to an electric oven in your kitchen. That’s the innovative, environmentally sustainable technology that we have deployed.”

SUREFIRE RESULTS 

Glen says that NPFulfilment’s CEO Rodney Bartley zeroed in on an area of 3PL that was underserved in the market. He agrees with Khurshed that the scalability of the Sure Sort is paramount insofar as it allows for growth within the niche market segment of small orders, flexible delivery, quick turnaround times, and the like. He adds that for a company like NPFulfilment – which isn’t aiming to compete with “the Tolls or DHLs of the world, because that’s been done” – the Sure Sort is perfect. 

“NPFulfilment started off pretty typically in that they had a lot of small parts stored in shelving, which they were picking orders out of, before moving onto some other technologies like very small conveyor systems to transport cartons,” Glen says. “But the tipping point for them came when they had to fulfil about 12,000 to 15,000 units per day. Up the chain that equates to about 5000-6000 orders, roughly, per day. And it just wasn’t economically viable. Putting in extra bodies, adding labour, was past the point of diminishing returns – and could be counterproductive if workers were tripping over each other – so they had to deploy a technology that would move them beyond that. With the Sure Sort they certainly got that.”

And the basic facts speak for themselves, says Khurshed. While previously NPFulfilment required eight workers to sort its orders, with Sure Sort it now takes only three workers. Furthermore, the Sure Sort has allowed NPFulfilment to multiply the number of orders it manages by a factor of five with the same amount of labour as was used prior to Sure Sort’s implementation. 

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Khurshed Mirza, Director of Warehouse Automation (APAC) at OPEX.

THE OPEX ADVANTAGE

“The success we’ve had implementing the Sure Sort for NPFulfilment is just validation again for me of why we partner with OPEX,” says Glen. “I don’t work for OPEX, but Dexion Liverpool is a systems integrator that stakes its reputation on our own best practice – but also working with the best solutions. The Sure Sort System isn’t just cutting edge for the moment – it’s about 10 years in front of anyone else’s offering on the market. We’ve worked with all the major players – but OPEX stands out well ahead of the pack.”

Khurshed is equally impressed with the work that Glen and Dexion Liverpool do in implementing and integrating OPEX technologies to get the most out of them for buyers. “We have confidence that our technology is the best out there,” Khurshed says. “But without the work of great systems integrators like Dexion Liverpool we couldn’t be assured of optimal client results. With Glen and his team, we know we can.”

The Sure Sort system was implemented at NPFulfilment before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. With a visionary CEO at NPFulfilment, leading technology from OPEX, and seamless integration from Dexion Liverpool – NPFulfilment has capitalised on the accelerated shift towards e-commerce and flexible small orders while everyone else is scrambling to catch up.

“Khurshed and I can see that the supply chains right now in Australia – with Christmas coming up – are at full stretch,” Glen says. “Everyone else is panicking about what Christmas looks like this year, but Rodney Bartley’s investment in the Sure Sort put him well ahead of the curve – and NPFulfilment can accommodate multiple cut-off times heading into Christmas. He’s in a much better position than most other people we deal with. And that’s thanks to him and to OPEX.”

For more information on Opex, click here.

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