Sorting it out with automation

Sorting it out with automation

Canadian parcel supply firm Intelcom is rushing operations and increasing its providers because of latest multimillion greenback investments in automated materials dealing with programs at its high-volume sortation hubs throughout Canada. The investments are fueling Intelcom’s transition from a last-mile supply specialist to a nationwide parcel firm that may deal with the center mile as properly, making it a extra priceless associate to on-line retailers who’re serving residential prospects from British Columbia to the Maritime Provinces and in all places in between.

“The technique that we’re setting up is to construct a nationwide community,” says Intelcom President Jean-Sébastien Joly, explaining that the corporate’s automated hub-and-spoke mannequin permits it to serve a wider viewers of e-commerce shoppers by giving them entry to a single level of entry at main logistics hubs in Canada. From these automated hubs, parcels will be sorted and delivered to smaller stations all through the community for last-mile supply. 

The high-tech transformation is an important a part of Intelcom’s development technique.

“We’ve at all times had hubs, however we had been doing handbook sortation,” Joly explains, including that it grew to become clear a number of years in the past that labor challenges would make it troublesome for the corporate to maintain up with its retail shoppers’ supply calls for. “[We also] felt we wanted to extend productiveness and reduce transit time.”

Automation helps Intelcom obtain these objectives. With greater than 70 areas throughout Canada, the privately owned, Quebec-based firm at the moment delivers about half 1,000,000 packages per day to 10 Canadian provinces and two territories for native, nationwide, and worldwide retailers utilizing a community of greater than 400 unbiased supply companions.


Intelcom started its automation journey about three years in the past, when Joly says firm leaders anticipated a labor scarcity and began exploring methods to extend productiveness throughout their success and supply community. The consequence was a $12 million funding in a brand new high-volume sorting hub in Mississauga, Ontario, a significant logistics and transportation heart. Opened simply in time for peak supply season within the fall of 2021, the hub options two automated programs that may convey and type 12,000 and 9,000 packages per hour, respectively—greater than tripling the quantity the operation beforehand dealt with manually. 

The system’s pneumatic conveyors are outfitted with “push tray sorters”—high-speed, continuous-loop sortation conveyors that use a bar to bodily push parcels off of particular person trays. Employees first manually feed parcels onto a flat conveyor, which carries them to some extent the place they’re dropped individually onto the trays of the push tray sorter. The trays then proceed the journey, with the bars pushing particular person parcels into designated cages alongside the meeting line. Cages are assigned to both a selected last-mile supply driver for last supply or are placed on a long-haul route for the center mile. When full or full, the cages are manually delivered to the hub’s loading areas and prepped for supply—with final-mile shipments making their means on to customers and middle-mile shipments heading to a different station within the community, the place they are going to be sorted for last supply.

Designed by materials dealing with agency Bastian Options, a Toyota Superior Logistics firm, the conveyors function 24 hours a day, powered by a parcel management platform that’s built-in with the ability’s broader IT system—a mixture of proprietary software program and native embedded options. A key a part of that system is Intelcom’s proprietary route optimization software program, which Joly refers to as “the guts of our know-how.” The system creates 4,000 optimized routes throughout Canada on daily basis, primarily based on the vacation spot of every parcel. A workers of practically 100 know-how consultants is working to constantly enhance the route optimizer and cut back transit instances, in keeping with Joly.

“We personal the know-how, and we preserve constructing on it,” he explains, emphasizing the corporate’s dedication to investing in know-how throughout all of its operations as a technique to accommodate development and enhance service.

Intelcom’s success in Mississauga has fueled additional funding. The corporate will open a $9 million automated sortation hub in Montreal—that includes the identical conveying and sorting know-how—by the top of this yr. Joly says the corporate plans to deploy comparable know-how to hubs in British Columbia, Alberta, and the Maritime Provinces over the subsequent few years as properly—though the dimensions of the station and its each day package deal quantity will decide precisely what sort of gear can be put in.


Past the high-volume sortation hubs, Intelcom’s community consists of roughly 25 midsized sorting services that deal with between 5,000 and 15,000 packages per day, and about 45 services that course of smaller volumes. The corporate plans so as to add automated programs to hurry processes on the smaller areas as properly—and once more, the dimensions and quantity of the ability will decide what’s put in. Reverse logistics is on the agenda too. Intelcom started dealing with residential returns about six months in the past—drivers will decide up objects to be returned on the shopper’s residence, offering a label and packaging if wanted—and the corporate will add convenience-store dropoff areas for returns this fall. As of September, Intelcom was processing roughly 12,000 returns per day, in keeping with Joly.

“By the top of [the first quarter of 2023], we’ll hopefully be in 800 comfort shops, and by the top of 2023, the purpose is to be in 2,000 comfort shops,” Joly added.

Intelcom can be trying to increase internationally, beneath the model identify Dragonfly. The corporate is already working beneath that model in Australia, delivering to a lot of the nation’s main metropolitan areas. Joly says different engaging markets for Intelcom embrace South America and a few components of Europe. The purpose is to search out new markets the place the corporate can resolve the issue retailers face in assembly ever-increasing residential supply demand.

As Joly explains: “We proceed to diversify our shopper base and our providers” in pursuit of that purpose. And he says automation can be a chief path to getting there.

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