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UPS Embraces Automation for Customers and Employees

By Alex Passett
October 13, 2023

Two months ago, package delivery company and household name UPS was all over the news, and for a concerning reason. The fires of a potential strike were brewing hot, and expert analysts had begun forecasting how a strike would greatly impact the economy. Forbes wrote that even just a 10-day UPS strike could cost the U.S. upward of $7 billion, including $4.6 billion in losses for customers and $1 billion lost in wages. Packages that would normally go out to rural areas would be hit the hardest, followed by supply chain crises and stresses for business owners virtually everywhere.

However, a systems-shaking strike was thankfully averted. The union members (i.e. the International Brotherhood of Teamsters) ratified a new five-year contract that received approval from nearly 86% of voting members.

That, no holds barred, is impactful. It also spotlights how vital workers at organizations like UPS truly are.

So, crisis avoided. An all-around smart decision for everyone.

Then, UPS made smart another decision, one highly relevant to Industrial IoT (IIoT) and to the progress of modern automation.

In late September, UPS announced new automation-centric improvements, which will reportedly strengthen its network capabilities and enhance employee experiences.

“UPS has been a technology company since its very founding. Raw innovation is in our DNA,” said Carol Tomé, Chief Executive Officer at UPS. “We continuously look for ways to leverage technology to improve experiences and increase efficiency. That is how we build a better and bolder UPS that can continue to be customer-first, people-led, and innovation-driven for years to come.”

So, let’s break down the operations-targeting improvements:

  1. UPS is using pick-and-place technologies powered by Dexterity, Fortna and Plus One Robotics to help employees sort small packages – i.e. a manual role that requires repetitive tasks and can be inconsistent, as it flexes with customer demands. Once implemented, the automated technology will make these jobs safer and easier, and it’ll offer a better overall experience for UPS employees.
  2. UPS is using Pickle Robot’s unloading technology to ease the oft-challenging job of unloading trailers, making the role less physically demanding for UPS employees and delivering better package care and reliability for customers.
  3. UPS is using autonomous guided vehicles (AGV) powered by Dane, Geek+, Locus Robotics, Crown and Toyota-Raymond to simplify several demanding jobs. Many AGV technologies seamlessly move small packages and irregular-sized shipments through UPS facilities. Irregular shipments don’t always fit on conveyor belts, thus can be much heavier and more difficult to move. So, AGVs streamline movements, handle various shipment irregularities, and promote safety.
  4. UPS is also leveraging digital technologies to ensure the condition of every delivery by using Delivery Photo and Delivery Defense to decrease fraud and mishandlings for customers.

This is likely just the start of automation-based changes for companies like UPS, given it delivers packages each business day for roughly 1.6 million shipping customers and 11.1 million deliver customers in over 200 countries and territories.

Overall, I’d say more value for employees and operational efficiencies via automation sound pretty good.

Edited by Greg Tavarez
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