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Postal service spends $66 million for tray handling

Last fall, the U.S. Postal Service awarded a $66 million contract for 100 robotic container loading systems to ABB Flexible Automation (New Berlin, WI).

The terms of the contract were confirmed by Gerry Kreienkamp, a media relations specialist with USPS.

“These robotic systems will replace manual picking and loading operations,” says Kreienkamp. Although he said he didn’t know what the payback period would be, Kreienkamp did say that the ABB system had been extensively tested at a beta site to make sure it would perform to expectations.

According to ABB’s president Silas Nichols, the contract represents “the largest single order for robotic systems outside the automotive industry.” Installation was to begin this month, and all 100 systems are to be up and running by November.

In the process, Kreienkamp describes, trays of sorted mail are conveyed toward one or more of the ABB gantry-style robots. “A scanner reads the bar-coded label on the tray and signals the robot to pick up that tray and gently put it into one of 24 different destination cages or APMCs (all-purpose mail containers),” he says. The APMCs are then transferred out into trucks for travel to their destination by surface carrier or by air.

The ABB system was selected for this contract because of its unique patented gripper and its user-friendly graphical user interface for programming the sortation. The robots will be handling the same containers now in use at 49 different distribution centers, bulk mail and airmail centers.

In the past, these functions were handled manually. “This will replace a lot of redundant manual work that’s especially tiring and monotonous,” says Kreienkamp. “It will also reduce the number of back injuries and other physical injuries that our employees may be subject to. These robotic systems will perform what had been a very tedious job that no one really liked to do.” (AO)

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