In Moscow, all roads lead to Vnukovo—for mail anyway. As the main sorting center for international mail and parcels arriving in Russia and for domestic mail and parcels making its way to and from the city, Russian Post’s Moscow International Exchange Center in Vnukovo, south-west of central Moscow, is a giant complex dedicated to a fast, efficient sorting of letters and parcels.
Vnukovo is huge – too big to be taken in at a single glance. In November 2016, six loading bays stretched across the snowy grounds. Inside, it’s a vast complex of smoothly whirring high speed conveyer belts transporting letters in a blur, and parcels large and small. To the untrained eye, it’s a bit overwhelming, but in fact it’s all highly organized and seamlessly integrated—as it has to handle 1,320,000 letters and up to 1,500,000 parcels a day.
Russian Post started to modernize its logistics in 2013. The world was changing, automating, and with the growth of e-commerce, more and more mail and parcels were flowing in from overseas especially from China. As the developer of the world’s very first automated OCR mail processing system coupled with many years of experience of supplying postal and logistics automation systems in over 20 countries, Toshiba was an obvious choice to be invited to the tendering process.
Image of OCR Flats Letter Sorting Machine (TT-2000)
Evgeniy Pronin, Head of Infrastructure Systems and Solution Department at Toshiba Rus LLC (TRU) and leader of Toshiba’s Vnukovo team, shares the story of how Toshiba handled the project: “We understood the general trends and our customer’s requirements based on the issues the previous sorting office had to deal with.”
Mr. Evgeniy Pronin, Head of Infrastructure Systems and Solution Department at Toshiba Rus LLC (TRU)
Mr. Pronin led the negotiations, heading a team from TRU, Toshiba and Toshiba International Corporation, a US subsidiary. After a number of site visits, they focused on the large number of micro-sized parcels going through Vnukovo. Logistics centers usually have one line for sorting mail and another for parcels, but they realized that a line to sort and separate micro-sized packets from others would be faster and more efficient. The final proposal to Russian Post was for four lines: a letter sorter, express parcel sorter (EPS); small parcel sorter (SPS); and micro packet sorter (MPS).
Toshiba was appointed as the system integrator, coordinating with other companies to build a unified system with centralized monitoring and management.
In addition, Toshiba proposed a solution for the customs check system. Russia puts all parcels from overseas through a customs check that verifies actual weight against claimed-weight. When this was done manually, it took time, but the new customs check system automates weighing, and also scans the declared contents. Now all operators have to do is monitor screens, including X-ray displays, to make sure that content and weight are properly declared.
“Our customer’s needs were not just about replacing their sorters,’” recalls Mr. Takashi Yamaguchi of Toshiba Infrastructure Systems and Solutions Corporation.
Mr. Takashi Yamaguchi, Toshiba Infrastructure Systems and Solutions Corporation
“They wanted a faster sorting system. So our work was not just a simple installation of the necessary equipment. We needed to think about how we could make everything operate more efficiently.” This inspired the project team members to offer solutions for better operations. Mr. Sergey Rezvin, who acts as project manager at Vnukovo site, explains one example, and also shines a light on Toshiba’s attention to detail.
Mr. Sergey Rezvin, project manager at Vnukovo site, proud of newly installed Toshiba parcel sorting line
“EMS, SPS and MPS usually sort parcels by reading barcodes, and Russian Post used barcode stickers printed on a white background that did not stand out, and they were too small to scan consistently. Operators also often put the barcodes in an inverted position, and that affected accurate scanning too. We proposed a barcode sticker with a bigger barcode on a red background which is the same color as the sorter’s scanner light. This minimizes human error and makes scanning easier. Sensing accuracy has improved by 20%.”
The red and the white
In addition to the Moscow center in Vnukovo, Toshiba’s attention to detail has won an order from Russian Post for the logistics centers in Saint-Petersburg, Novosibirsk and Kazan, Russia’s top-4 cities, and also for a 2nd block in the Moscow center. With the one-stop solutions provided by Toshiba, Russians can look forward to a postal system built for years to come.
Russian Post plans to automate several more of its international logistics centers across Russia, and has signed a series of MOUs with Toshiba that will strengthen comprehensive collaboration in the postal and logistics automation systems business in Russia.