Evolving Postal and Logistic Automation Systems
Postal and Logistic Automation Equipment and Pattern Recognition Technologies
Trends in Technologies for Postal and Logistic Automation Systems and Toshiba's Approach
KOJIMA Hidetaka / YAMAMOTO Takehiko
Half a century has passed since Toshiba started the development of postal and logistic automation equipment in 1965. We have been continuously introducing sophisticated products with high performance and high reliability, applying our proprietary optical character recognition (OCR) technologies cultivated through our long experience in this field. These products have been contributing to the accurate and swift delivery of mail and parcel items in Japan and overseas in response to customers' requirements.
With the increasing volume of parcels in recent years resulting from the global dissemination of electronic commerce, new types of services and more accurate and rapid delivery technologies are required. In order to support postal and logistic infrastructure systems worldwide, we are making ongoing efforts to offer the optimal postal and logistic solutions for each operation using the latest technologies.
Next-Generation Letter Sorting System for Japan Post Co., Ltd.
TSUDA Kazuhiko / MATSUBARA Jun
In response to the introduction of seven-digit postcodes, Toshiba developed a letter sorting system incorporating a sequence sorting function to arrange letters according to delivery routes, and delivered it to the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (now Japan Post Co., Ltd.) in February 1997. Almost 1,000 of these letter sorting machines are still in operation.
Demand has recently increased for the enhancement of postal processing efficiency, leading to a need for higher efficiency of the sequence sorting function and for an automatic mail forwarding function to handle mail items showing an addressee's previous address. Moreover, in place of the existing system in which the address database for sorting and operational data are individually managed for each letter sorting machine, demand has arisen for management through the integration of multiple letter sorting machines.
To meet these sophisticated and diversified requirements, we have developed a next-generation letter sorting system with new functions and higher performance that will contribute to further improvement of the efficiency of postal services.
Integrated Letter Sorting System for Singapore Post Limited
WATANABE Toru / ANDO Toshiki / YAYAMA Kyoko
Toshiba has developed a new mail processing system and delivered it in stages to Singapore Post Limited, which provides both domestic and international postal services in Singapore. The installation work and testing were performed from March to October 2014, and the system commenced operation in November 2014.
This system is an integrated letter sorting system, which is essential for mail processing and related operations. It consists of conventional letter sorting machines; flat item and packet sorters; a unified optical character recognition and video coding (OCRV) system incorporating an optical character reader (OCR), barcode reader, and video coding system (VCS); and information technology (IT) systems for operation planning and management. Each of these devices offers not only a high throughput and OCR read rate, but also excellent environmental performance such as space saving, low noise, and low power consumption. Most of the mail in Singapore is now automatically processed by this system.
Sophisticated Cold Roll Box for Logistics Utilizing ICTs
MUNAKATA Naoyuki / MURAKAMI Atsushi / MATSUDA Yasushi
A cold roll box (CRB) is a portable refrigerator that is used to transport refrigerated and frozen goods in physical distribution systems. In Japan, demand has recently arisen for CRBs with functions that not only realize more rapid cooling and faster battery charging, but also stricter temperature control. In other markets as well, there is a growing need for CRBs accompanying the increase in demand for transportation of refrigerated and frozen goods.
Toshiba has developed a new secondary battery type CRB that integrates its proprietary technologies, including refrigeration technology, rapid charging technology, and information and communication technologies (ICTs), cultivated through the development of physical distribution systems. The new CRB achieves cooling and battery charging in two hours, one-quarter the time required by our conventional products, and provides cold storage for seven hours, two hours longer that the conventional products. These features make it possible to increase the frequency of usage from once a day to three times a day, resulting in more efficient use of equipment as well as space and energy saving. Furthermore, the newly developed CRB offers customers a sense of security by providing transportation status and temperature traceability information obtained by data collection devices.
Improvement of Address Recognition Technologies for Letter and Parcel Sorting Systems
In logistics and postal automation systems, character recognition technology to acquire information for sorting destination addresses from scanned images is essential for letter and parcel sorting systems.
Toshiba has been engaged in the research and development of core technologies in this field since the 1960s. The accuracy of recognition of full address data from scanned images of postal items and parcels, including the street, floor or house number, and postal code, has been enhanced through these efforts. However, in the recognition of freely handwritten addresses, where the boundaries of each character may be unclear, a candidate reduction technique to narrow down the candidate addresses from among a large number of readings of characters in conjunction with an address database plays a major role in the recognition algorithm.
In response to this situation, we have now developed handwritten word recognition and address database searching algorithms for letter and parcel sorting systems based on an a posteriori probability that is assumed to be statistically optimal. We have conducted evaluation experiments using the newly developed word and address recognition technologies and confirmed that these technologies can recognize handwritten addresses with higher accuracy than conventional methods.
Technologies for Automatic Depalletizing Robots for Logistics Sites
OGAWA Akihito / MURAKAMI Atsushi
With industries in the service sector facing a critical labor shortage accompanying the aging of society and declining birthrate in recent years, improvement of productivity is becoming a social issue. In particular, demand for the introduction of automated processes has been increasing in various business fields such as logistics in which long working hours and heavy workloads tend to be required, in terms of both reducing the burden on workers and realizing sustainable growth. Innovative robot technologies are therefore necessary due to the difficulty of automating all handling processes for diversified packages using current equipment.
As a solution to this issue, Toshiba has been engaged in the development of technologies for robots to support the processing of complex tasks carried out by workers. We have now developed technologies for automatic depalletizing robots for logistics sites incorporating the following technologies: a control algorithm to automate the processes of depalletizing work, an articulated mechanism with vacuum type gripping pads to grip packages of various shapes, and a package recognition technology to accurately detect the position of target packages.