Case Study

Edge computing allows Nexive robots to use data in real time

E-commerce continues to grow at a rapid pace and the delivery sector must keep up with it: deliveries that are increasingly quicker, able to reach customers wherever they are and offer greater traceability and reliability. In recent years, players in the sector have had to revise their product and service offerings, adapting to a dynamic and constantly evolving system. Nexive knows this well: it is a leading Italian player in the shipping sector, with a widely distributed network made up of 12 sorting hubs and about 650 last-mile delivery branches, capable of covering the entire national territory.

A company that originally operated as a postal player, with a national network built around ‘postmen/women’ and with a lean delivery system on two wheels, Nexive decided to focus on e-commerce. “Our competitors were leading players and we had to decide how to position ourselves in this domain. Given our organisational structure, we opted for the management of medium-small objects, also because they are fully compatible with our means of transport”, explains Luca Vicario, head of the Engineering and Automation of Nexive's Operation division.

To do this, however, it was necessary to enhance Nexive’s sorting and delivery systems by acquiring a reliable and, above all, flexible supply chain technology platform. Previously, the entire sorting phase was carried out manually. However, in 2018 the company had already started to think about automation. “If we really wanted to take on the e-commerce market, we had no choice. After all, the biggest difference between the universe of postal consignments and that of express deliveries is the speed of delivery: it was necessary to rely on technology to fill this gap”, emphasises Vicario.

The company, therefore, decided to initiate an automation process of its sorting hubs. To do this, in partnership with Logistics Reply – the Reply Group company specialising in advanced solutions for supply chain execution – the company proceeded with the implementation of the existing platform and the use of sorters, i.e. robot-sorters, in its warehouses. This was a preferred solution as it is more flexible than fixed systems, which typically require much more complex installation timeframes.

Although a key requirement was to be able to guide and support operators in their daily work, managing the deliveries from check-in to sorting on the delivery lorries, it was equally critical to have monitoring dashboards available to provide supervisors with up-to-date information on the progress of daily activities, exceptions or delays, as well as having a platform available that would make it possible to plan possible future enhancements. This platform needed to offer unlimited scalability to support the peak volumes typical of a company very strongly influenced by seasonality. To achieve these objectives, however, it was not necessary to change everything: in fact, it was sufficient to adapt the existing technology to the new requirements.

Nexive had already selected the Lea Reply platform which, thanks to the ‘Hub & Network’ mobile and Web application, makes it possible to follow the entire logistics chain, from picking up the package to its final delivery. What’s more, the platform enabled Nexive to manage not only the receipt and sorting activities but also those concerning cross-docking, in other words, the transit of goods that are consigned immediately, without any intermediate storage.

Since its implementation in May 2017, the platform has been able to manage a logistic network made up of over 160 sites throughout Italy, supporting over 700,000 deliveries per month. Subsequently, with the introduction of the edge component, completed in 2018, it was possible to implement the ’autonomous sorting’ functions. These made it possible to manage and remotely control the robots, which today can move around the warehouse to collect useful information (such as the weight or dimensions of parcels) and organise the parcels into the correct containers or at the appropriate shipping gates.

Thanks to this ‘upgrade’ and to the platform’s extreme processing speed, Nexive is now able to manage the sorting and delivery of over a million parcels per month, with recent peaks of up to 75,000 parcels per day. Indeed, edge technology makes it possible to obtain a response within milliseconds, thus guaranteeing precision, safety and performance.

Moreover, all the ‘limitations’ typical of a cloud solution have been overcome, thanks to the implementation of the edge component. On the one hand, latency has been reduced to a minimum, while on the other hand, the possibility of maintaining continuity even in the absence of a connection has increased with the processing of ‘offline’ data, enabling secure and resilient local operations.

“Our robots were not only required to process data in real-time but also to communicate it at the same speed. We, therefore, needed a high-performing and reliable system, capable of managing processes in parallel with the simultaneous exchange of information with multiple systems”, explains Alessandro Subert, Nexive’s Chief Application Officer, confirming just how Reply’s support was key to intervening on the management system with automation and edge computing logics. Moreover, thanks to the fog architecture, it is possible to reach very high levels of customisation and the system can be reconfigured quickly and remotely.

Today all efforts remain focused on warehouse automation. After the initial testing phase at a number of sites, Nexive and Reply are now working on installing this edge-based solution on the company’s three main hubs by the end of 2021. The postal operator has already calculated that the reduction in sorting costs can reach as much as 30%. Moreover, this ‘lean automation’ system will not make it necessary to implement larger hubs, even if the volume of deliveries increases significantly.

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