Every day, TNT Express transports tens of thousands of shipments all over the world on behalf of their customers. The majority of items pass through the system trouble free. However, about a quarter of items are unlabelled when TNT collect them, and have to be labelled on arrival at the local TNT Express depot.
Until recently, this process was carried out using conventional desktop label printers located at workstations around the depot, causing several problems:
- bulky workstations put extra pressure on limited space resources
- made the labelling process was inflexible as the workstations were in fixed locations
- trips backwards and forwards to collect labels were time consuming because most of the workstations were located a long way from where the operators were working.
Now, though, TNT Express in The Netherlands has equipped its workers with Zebra QL 420 mobile printers, meaning that barcode scanning and label printing can be carried out 'on-demand' at the point of application ('from the operator's belt'), eliminating the need for workstations.
Early indications are that the TNT operators work faster, with higher levels of accuracy, and without wasting time walking back and forth to the nearest workstation. By reducing the number of man hours required to label a set number of items, this last factor alone has meant that the Zebra mobile printers have paid for themselves in less than 4 months.
Around 25% of the packages arriving at the TNT Express hubs are not labelled with the vital barcoded destination information required for them to reach the right place. These items have to be put to one side and verified with the data on the consignment note.
Theo van Alst, ICS Service Manager of TNT in The Netherlands, explains: "Under the old system, the information needed to print the destination labels was then sent from the central administration system to the desktop label printer at the nearest workstation. The operator handling these incoming items then had to walk to the workstation, collect the labels, walk back to the incoming items, and carefully match each item to its corresponding destination label. Often an operator would walk to the workstation, only to find that the system had yet to send the data to the printer, meaning that the labels had not been printed."
Not only was this slow and time consuming, but errors were caused by the mismatching of packages and labels – resulting in shipments going to the wrong destination. And, as anybody that works in logistics knows, it's a difficult and expensive process bringing packages back to the depot. The process can also hamper customer relationships.
When it came to designing a new system, TNT Express was keen to:
- Combine the 2 key operator processes of scanning and printing into one single transaction in order to raise efficiency levels
- Minimise "walk time" – i.e. the time operators spent walking to and from workstations to collect labels
- Eliminate all possibility of costly labelling errors By giving staff their own portable label printer and barcode scanner, each operator effectively became a mobile goods receiving centre, and the business improvement goals they had set became immediately attainable.