Exclusive - Lifter Becomes DHL's Big Game Changer

DHL Express technicians have introduced a tool named Large Automated Conveying System (LACS), capable of processing large or bulky shipments in no time. Utilizing the Lifter for processing the cumbersome goods speeds up ground processes and enhances the overall performance further, states the integrator. At DHL, they speak of a trailblazing innovation.

DHL exects Lars Wirges (left) and Ralph Wondrak  -  photos: hs
DHL exects Lars Wirges (left) and Ralph Wondrak - photos: hs

Ralph Wondrak, Managing Director, DHL Hub is excited. "This new tool is a unique solution, putting us ahead of the competition when it comes to heavier weight consignments. It gives us a significant competitive edge on top of the ones we already have,” exclaims the assured Chief of DHL’s European operations hub during an exclusive night tour through the integrator’s largest sorting center globally. “Thanks to the LACS, we can further cut down our average unit costs and reduce handling times substantially.” 
 
Ralph’s praise is backed up by facts
DHL claims that thanks to the LACS the process times per large shipment have been cut down from 35 minutes to 10. This is a landmark achievement in the speedy world of express freight, notes Mr Wondrak.
Moreover, the lifter eases the physical work of the ground personnel since heaviung heavy and bulky goods on the conveyer belts is a tiring and strenuous job, with much of the work now done by the semi-automated machine.
 The system, although pretty sophisticated, works in a strikingly simple way. A forklift operator places an outsized or heavy shipment onto one of the yellow trays, which resemble large sledges. Next, the piece is fic

xed with straps to hold it in place while moving. Once this is done, the tray and its content are hydraulically lifted to the mezzanine floor of DHL’s Leipzig sorting center and connected onto a belt. What follows is well-tested practice in the express business: the consignment travels on the conveyer toa loading station where ground personnel transfer it into a container together with other goods bound for a certain destination. The flight on board a freighter operated by DHL or one of their partners, clearance and handling at destination, and the last-mile delivery to the consignee round off the item's journey.

Lifter with outsized shipment on tray ready for being processed
Lifter with outsized shipment on tray ready for being processed

  Up to 170 kilograms
According to Lars Wirges, Project Director, Leipzig Hub Expansion, DHL Express, the LACS lifter can accommodate and process single pieces weighing up to 170 kilograms, measuring 200L x 100W x 100H centimeters. “It is worldwide unique and on its way to becoming a real game changer for us,” Lars enthuses.
He mentions another advantage: Up to recently, each oversized or heavy piece needed a manual scan. Now, however, built-in scanners perform this service, automatically recording the shipment’s data, no matter where the barcode is located on the package.
Currently, about 40 percent of the projected LACS system is installed and working, giving handling personnel valuable knowledge that will lead to further improvements. By September the entire system will be operating at 100 percent, note the DHL managers, with 131 automated lifters and 1,100 trays in action.
 
Industry follows DHL Express
But what makes DHL Express more attractive than – say – traditional cargo airlines for transporting goods weighing more than the standard 31.5 kilogram packages that integrators normally process? “It’s the cut-off times, in combination with our dense global network and our 24/7 operation,” notes managing director Wondrak. Practically, this means that both forwarders and shippers can deliver their goods to Leipzig’s DHL sorting center until 9 pm or even later knowing that their shipments are flown out the very same night.

Tray and consignment on journey through DHL’s huge sorting center
Tray and consignment on journey through DHL’s huge sorting center

The entire region is increasingly benefitting from this option since more and more enterprises have set up production sites and distribution centres in LEJ’s neighborhood. And this is with good reason, because they can deliver their shipments late to the local DHL premises or – in the case of incoming goods – pick them up there in the early morning hours.
All of this is supported by the respective authorities, such as Customs, which are in-housenand on duty at almost all times of the day and week.      
 
The workstation scoop
It’s not only the LACS that’s becoming a benchmark in the rapidly changing express world. Simultaneously, the logistics arm of Deutsche Post DHL Group has come up with another trail blazing innovation: a hydraulically operated platform for raising or lowering workstations to make the unloading process of large containers substantially easier. Take the AMX (Q7) container, measuring 300m centimeters in height, for example, which is used by DHL for its B777 and B747 freighter operations. From now on, the handling people just have to push a button and the platform elevates instantly to the level desired. “Formerly, our handling people needed a ladder to reach the top layers of goods stowed within the huge containers. Now they just have to press a button to move the platform upwards to get within easy reach of the shipments,” states Wondrak. This also saves time and us less tiring for the local workforce. But first and foremost, it benefits employee's health.

The movable platform offers DHL staff ergonomic support
The movable platform offers DHL staff ergonomic support

Job engine
DHL started their Leipzig mission in 2008, transiting their main hub operations from their formermain European hub Brussels to the Saxon city. One of the factors behind is believed to be the limitation on night flying in Brussels, although the geographical location ofg Leipzig, the opportunities for future expansion and the availability of a skilled work force are main factors cited by the company.
Ever since, the package firm’s throughput at LEJ is increasing at a significant rate year by year. Up to 40 percent of the shipments handled there consists of so-called flyers, i.e., small and very light document shipments. Around 55 percent are packages of up to 31.5 kilograms and the remaining approximately five percent belongs to the heavy and outsized category, with non-standard shupments growing rapidly.
“In our three freight terminals, offering combined floor space of almost 100,000 square meters, we process 1,900 tons per day and up to 2,400 tons in seasonal peak times,” states manager Wondrak. More throughput leads to more jobs, “which is extremely important for us, not least in terms of earning community support for future investments,” notes Dan McGrath, responsible for external communications at DP-DHL.
Currently, DHL employs 4,900 staff in LEJ, although this is clearly not the end of the line since the integrator’s business keeps growing. 

Heiner Siegmund

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