Canada Post now has one less excuse for losing letters and parcels of Richmond residents.
That’s because starting this month the crown corporation will now be fully operational at its new 700,000 square-feet Pacific Processing Centre on Sea Island, just a hop skip and jump away from Richmond’s City Centre.
The facility will consolidate about 900 part- and full-time jobs in Richmond and is billed as the ‘e-Commerce Gateway to the Pacific Rim,’ as the crown corporation is betting some heavy chips on parcel deliveries as letter mail spirals in a downward direction.
Think eBay and Amazon.
“This facility is designed more around the parcel packet business, not so much the letter side of things. We still are going after letter mail business but parcels is our future,” said Scott Hall, director of operations for Canada Post, on a media tour Tuesday afternoon.
The new sorting facility for B.C. inbound and outbound mail replaces the main processing plant in Downtown Vancouver as well as the parcel centre on No. 6 Road. Being located next to Vancouver International Airport will keep Canada Post strategically competitive with competitors such as FedEx and UPS.
Hall explained that both of the old facilities were undersized and couldn’t handle newer, longer trailer trucks. The new PPC is also one floor, unlike the old multi-floor one, thus making sorting much more streamlined.
Being next to the airport and closer to the highway, mail will not have to travel as far — such as through busy Downtown Vancouver traffic — and as such, more of it can be processed in one day; the facility can sort up to 12,000 packets, 10,000 parcels and 41,000 letters per hour, according to officials.
“So with all of this machinery in here, we're well suited for our Christmas operation and peak operation periods, as well as trying to grow our parcel business,” said Hall.
One of the biggest logistical achievements is the ability to load and unload airplane containers in a much more efficient manner.
The mail is brought to the facility via trucks — typically coming a short distance from the airport if the mail is from out of province — and unloaded into bins.
From the north receiving side of the facility the mail is hoisted up and over to the south dispatch side via conveyor belts, across a corridor the length of five football fields, which bustles with passing forklifts and yellow-vested employees.
Along the way, each piece is likely to pass in and out of a number of bins and pass along a portion of the main 1,400-foot oval-shaped conveyer belt that looms 25 feet above the workers.
Within the 30,000-foot maze of automated conveyor belts, computers with video encoding devices will read barcodes and hand-written postal codes to automatically assign a light yellow series of lines to the item, which acts as its road map, in what is known as the Integrated Mail Sorting System.
At each step a barcode is scanned — be it by a machine or a human sorter — it sends a wireless signal to Canada Post’s servers, to let the customers know where their packages are.
Pieces are also automatically weighed when they’re sorted as to not overburden a particular bin.
“This facility is also ergonomically design for our employees,” said Hall.
Simply put, Mr. Fred Rogers would probably need two episodes to explain the process; and at $200 million of taxpayer-backed dollars (just part of Canada Post’s $2 billion, multi-year, internally funded modernization program) it better be “special.”
Of course, nothing is perfect. The facility took four months longer than expected to unveil and while Hall said there were some initial “bugs, it’s to be expected in a facility such as this.
Along the way packages can slip off the conveyors, as witnessed on the tour. That requires human intervention.
Even still, Canada Post appears to take every automated and humanely possible step to make sure mail gets delivered on time.
For instance, if your handwriting isn’t anything to brag about, your letter may end up in the “letter hospital and clinic,” noted Hall.
While the main facility is loud and boisterous, the clinic is a soundproof room with rows of focused employees on PC computers, reading digital images of the misfit packages. Their job is to manually enter the postal codes and assign it to the existing barcode.
“Many international products don't have compatible barcodes,” added Hall.
Much of the facility’s technology is unique to Canada Post, said Hall, but it’s also based on Canada Post’s competitors as well as best practices found in Europe and the United States.
The Pacific Processing Centre is said to be a ‘Grade A’ facility, on par with Canada Post’s facilities in Toronto and Montreal. It also incorporates inspections by Canada Border Services for incoming international mail.
The top three originating countries for mail at the PPC are the United States, China and Great Britain, respectively.
The facility is located on the north side of Sea Island at 5940 Ferguson Road.