British Forces Post Office automates parcel sorting

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The British Forces Post Office (BFPO) sorting centre at RAF Northolt in West London is using optical character recognition (OCR) and intelligent character recognition (ICR) systems to automate sorting of its parcels and packages.

The system using Prime Vision OCR/ICR software is maintaining a first time read rate of 46 per cent for its non-letter stream. Automating the process is difficult due to the shape or the nature many parcels, packages and flats, which have previously had to be sorted by hand.

Automation manager, Staff Sergeant Ty Wales, explained: ‘A lot of what we handle is addressed by hand and we also have to compensate for quite a lot of addressing mistakes. Missing or incorrect BFPO numbers are common.’

Prime Vision’s ParcelMatch system is based on algorithms for handwritten characters and script. It is also competent at reading machine printed text, so this was clearly the ideal combination for the BFPO application.

A number of other ParcelMatch features contribute to the high first-time read rate at BFPO. Region of interest techniques, for example, provide the sign posts that tell the OCR where to decode. Various helper tools assist this process including an offline Label Identification Tool that uses barcodes and other symbols on the label as a guide. With Prime Vision’s new Smart Label Identification algorithms, up to 50 different label formats can be identified, providing a stable reference point to boost recognition.

The remainder of BFPO Post – around 54 per cent – remains on the sorter for 90 seconds for another scan to be performed before further action is taken. This can range from Prime Vision Key-IT video coding in the dedicated coding room through to manual handling of items.

Ty Wales said: ‘Video coding boosts our automatic read rate to around 85 per cent and typical candidates include cellophane wrapped items that the camera struggles to read due to reflection from the packaging. The remaining 15 per cent has to be manually handled and sorted into bins.’

Crisplant, a developer of sorting technology, was chosen as the principal supplier and integrator for the sorting system.

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