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Smarter sorting system for bpost thanks to the right sensor technology

The Belgian postal company bpost is actively innovating in order to prepare itself for the digital world. bpost is calling on Sirris in a bid to make their manual mail sorting more reliable and efficient with the help of digital technology. The aim of the innovation is to increase the efficiency of a manual sorting system by means of automatic detection of sorted letters in the various sorting fields. Several questions arose along the way: which sensor technology can robustly handle this detection? How can you cost-efficiently run a sorting system with integrated sensor technology? Which parties can support us in our development and industrialisation?

From analysis to demonstrator

Sirris supported bpost in the initial phase of the process with an analysis of potential sensor technologies for the detection of letters. A variety of concepts was considered, ranging from vision-based to mechanical and electrical measurement solutions, after which capacitive detection was selected as the most interesting option.

 

The potential of this detection principle has been demonstrated by means of a first proof of concept, built on the basis of low-priced electronics available on the market and validated by Sirris. In this way, a deeper insight was gained into the specific challenges of capacitive detection in this application and into the main risks for further development. A second proof of concept was used to further investigate the application of the technology in order to be able to mitigate these risks. Thanks to a specific sensor design and signal processing, the sensitivity and robustness of the detection has been significantly improved.


This brought the step towards industrialisation within reach. Together with the technological feasibility, the economic feasibility of the improved concept was evaluated. Sirris also supported bpost in the drafting of a specification and with advice in the discussions with potential partners for the industrialisation of the smart sorting system. To help bpost evaluate the solution, Sirris built a demonstrator with about twenty sorting compartments and provided it with detection technology and visual feedback. Not only functional aspects were considered, but also the user experience, e.g. the response time of the system and the nature of the feedback according to the user input. This demonstrator also confirmed that sufficiently fast and robust letter detection is possible with technology that is deployable at a sufficiently low cost.


In this process bpost chose to collaborate with Sirris, not only because of its technological expertise, both in the more research related aspects and in the implementability of solutions, but also because of its support and objective advice in the industrialisation process. In this phase Sirris played a mediating role towards bpost and the potential industrial partners.