Axiom GB has designed, manufactured and installed a goods-in sortation system for the onwards dispatch of examination materials at Cambridge Assessment. The new sorter has doubled the speed of sortation for highly sensitive materials, allowing the department to sort up to 10,000 packets a day by their onwards destination.
Cambridge Assessment operates and manages the University’s three exam boards, from setting and creating the assessment through to marking and issuing results. Simon Butteriss, Assistant Director – Group Operations explains, “The Group Print & Operations’ processes include the printing, packaging, distribution, returns and onwards post-exam operations for 8 million learners per year, in over 170 countries worldwide.”
A need for automation – managing peak season
“We previously handled all the mail re-direction of post-exam materials manually. However, as our workload is very seasonal this started to become an issue. The summer is our peak operational time where we see a significant surge in the number of items which need processing. In order to handle the increased demand in workload, we had to rely on recruiting extra flexible workers.
“As the nature of the goods being processed is highly confidential and we work in a tightly secured environment, we have to be extremely strict about who we employ. Therefore, as part of the broader business objectives, we decided to reduce our reliance on manual handling and invest in an automated solution.”
Investing in the right solution
“Initially we created a detailed specification for the required achievements of the automated solution. We then held a tendering process where several companies, including Axiom, were presented with our requirements. Pleased with the quality of Axiom’s response, they were shortlisted as a potential partner.
“Being able to visit a previous installation Axiom had completed for Lakeland sealed the deal for us. We spent the day observing the facility in operation and we were impressed by the quality of the installation. Speaking to the Lakeland staff was such a bonus too, as hearing their unscripted opinions of their experience and relationship with Axiom really gave us the confidence and peace of mind we needed. After the visit, there really wasn’t any question about who we were going to partner with.”
Automating the goods-in and re-direction process
“The solution Axiom installed features three induct stations where operators process packets once they arrive at our facility. When the exam paper scripts are returned from the examination centre, they are usually packed into boxes or packets which have an air waybill attached to them. The outer box or packet is scanned into the system and then the operator separates the individual script packets and places them onto the conveyor system.
“Each packet is automatically weighed and photographed to verify its content. Once verified and logged into the system, the packets are then merged onto the main conveyor. The induct stations feature a gapping conveyor so that when all three stations are in use, the packets are introduced onto the main conveyor at delayed intervals, eliminating the chance of packet collisions.
“Once travelling down the main conveyor, the packets are then scanned again. This scan tells the system the final destination of each packet. The main conveyor incorporates a series of 13 swivel wheel sorters to divert packets to one of the 13 outfeed conveyor stations.
“Here, each packet has its final scan to ensure the correct packet has arrived at the right outfeed station. The system then updates the status of the packet to acknowledge it has been delivered to the correct destination. It is then deposited into the shipping container at each station. When full, each shipping container is manually moved to the dispatch area using a pallet truck.
“If the system has any issues reading a barcode or packet, the packet will continue to travel down the sorter where it will be deposited into the final ‘jackpot’ container. Here we are able to manually sort the packets and rectify any issues.”
A grade A solution for faster processing
Simon Butteriss continues, “Previously when the onwards destination sortation of the script packets was carried out manually, we could process a maximum of 6,000 packets in a day. With the new automated system, we are able to hit 2,000 packets an hour. As a result, we are able to run the facility for a shorter shift.
“One of the main benefits of Axiom’s solution is that all goods-in packets are now processed the same day they arrive at our facility. The best timescale improvement we have so far seen is a reduction from four days processing time to an incredible 40 minutes!
“Whilst running at full capacity, the new system can achieve a fourfold increase in labour efficiency. There is a potential annual capacity in excess of three million packets throughput.”
Axiom’s solution exceeds all expectations
“The automated solution has delivered everything we expected and more. At the outset of the project, we committed to an initiative of a £300,000 a year saving on labour and we are set to achieve that within the first nine months.
“We haven’t encountered any issues with the system since the initial installation tests, it has proved to be a very reliable system. It is vital that we avoid any downtime, especially during peak season. To protect against such occurrences, we have a support contract in place with Axiom. This provides remote support and regular on-site scheduled system maintenance around our peak season to rectify any potential issues before they become problematic.”
A successful partnership with Axiom
“Axiom delivered the project both on time and in budget. From their initial tender, we were confident that this was going to be a well-managed project and they definitely lived up to this. They worked with us to ensure the installation caused minimum disruption; this included having to adhere to our strict confidentiality policy and rigorous health and safety regulations on-site.
“Overall, Axiom exceeded our expectations as a supplier. It was key to success that we had a close working relationship with both the commercial and engineering sides of the business. Being able to talk to the directors on a daily basis gave us confidence, as we knew they were the individuals who could make our ambitions real. Axiom delivered the quality we’d expect from a much larger organisation which is a real credit to them.”
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