Robotic systems aiding USPS plant operations

The Postal Service has added 60 new robotic systems at 40 processing and distribution plants across the nation to help boost efficiency, especially during this year’s busy holiday peak season.

Guided by strategically placed sensors, the flex rover sorters are autonomous robots that resemble utility carts. Each rover is powered by a rechargeable, 18-hour battery that can be swapped out when it runs down.

The system can help employees sort and handle machinable mail, nonmachinable mail, bundles and sacks. Anything up to 75 pounds can placed on top of a rover.

“We’re focused on reducing our network processing time to get letters and packages to our customers faster — especially during peak season — and the new flex rover sorters will help us achieve that goal,” said Mike Barber, Processing and Maintenance Operations vice president.

Here’s how the system works on a plant floor:

First, rows of bins are placed on the floor for mailpieces destined for different parts of the country.

Next, employees are stationed nearby to scan mailpieces. The scans also direct the rovers.

“The employee scans the mail or parcel under [a] camera, then places the mail or parcel onto the rover, which carries it to the correct bin,” said Joseph Seiss, a mechanical engineer with the Automated Guided Vehicles/Robotics Center of Excellence in Merrifield, VA.

The rover then quickly returns to the employee for the next batch of mailpieces. As many as 400 parcels can be processed per hour using the system.

“This equipment is intended to be ultimately flexible, meaning the bin layout can be configured and arranged in various patterns, shapes and setups depending on the needs of each facility,” Seiss said.

Lehigh Valley, PA, Processing and Distribution Center, which experienced mail processing delays during last year’s peak season, recently installed the system.

“They absolutely will make a big difference during peak. They will give us an additional workforce and improve our ability to process more volumes,” said Gregory Miller, the plant manager.

Developed by Prime Vision, a robotics company, the rovers can be quickly set up; USPS deployed all 60 in just seven weeks.

The rovers, along with new sorting machines and other robotics, are a focus of the organization’s 10-year Delivering for America plan to modernize the Postal Service.

“I’m excited to see the level of preparedness in our facilities,” said Chief Logistics and Processing Operations Officer Isaac Cronkhite. “Incorporating the flex rover sorters is a great example of how we are investing in ourselves and transforming our processing network as outlined in the Delivering for America plan.”


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