Using 3D sensors, alongside cameras, provides the necessary accuracy to support solutions that will

Using 3D sensors, alongside cameras, provides the necessary accuracy to support solutions that will

Challenges of parcel overload

3D Technology solutions help meet the challenges of parcel overload, one of the greatest problems created by the growing on-demand-economy, says Hozefa Saylawala, Middle East Director, Zebra Technologies

June 2020

The market for 3D sensor technologies is growing exponentially and the proliferation of 3D imaging technology is driving rapid adoption in the industrial sector as organisations adopt new technologies in their quest to improve worker productivity, speed, and efficiency.

The transportation and logistics (T&L) sector will be a significant beneficiary of 3D solutions, where they will help solve one of the greatest problems created by the growing on-demand-economy: parcel overload.

There has been a profound shift in the grocery and retail space with many shoppers trying online shopping for the first time, and many plan to continue the habit. According to a survey commissioned by global consultancy firm Kearney Middle East, around 79 per cent of consumers in the UAE and 95 per cent in Saudi Arabia are now spending more online during the Covid-19 outbreak, than they did previously. Forty eight per cent in the UAE and 69 per cent in Saudi Arabia said they would maintain current shopping habits after the pandemic.

Saylawala: boosting dock loading efficiency

Saylawala: boosting dock loading efficiency

In trying to keep up the deluge of online sales, some companies in the T&L industry may invest more resources by hiring tens of thousands more temporary seasonal workers and adding a large amount of handling capacity in the hubs. However, as the parcel volumes increase, these approaches may not solve all of the challenges.



Although operational efficiency through data analytics and planning has penetrated most parts of parcel carrier operations, an often-overlooked area is dock operations. In this critical environment, dock managers must juggle conflicting concerns of trailer load speed and trailer space utilisation for the 15 to 25 dock doors they are monitoring. They must also manage a wide range of complex processes at the same time, such as trailer pull requests and hot doors. They usually try to do all this by visual inspection, moving from one dock to the other. As a result, trailer load densities are typically below target levels, meaning that a typical fully loaded trailer is carrying more air by volume than it should.

Automatic data collection and succinct visualisations that identify problem points as they arise in real time are the key to boosting efficiency of dock loading. Implementing these solutions has been difficult in the past because computer vision techniques solely based on camera images struggle to provide enough accuracy when attempting to estimate trailer fullness and other key load metrics. These cameras aren’t refined enough to factor in, or adjust to, the often-challenging lighting conditions and cluttered environment inside trailers.

That is why edge processing devices such as a Load Monitoring Unit (LMU) combine cameras with 3D sensors to collect depth information within the trailer. The 3D sensors are less affected by bad lighting and can generate richer ‘scene’ data. In turn, they provide the accurate – and complete – data sets needed to estimate key load performance indicators, such as trailer fullness, height of each package wall and ceiling gaps in real-time. Solutions such as the LMU also include a processing unit, a tool that enables the data collected by the camera and 3D sensor to be processed on the device itself. This enables edge analytics, which is crucial to support real-time detection and to avoid sending large amounts of data to a backend server.

However, the LMU is only one part of the advanced trailer monitoring systems. In situations where a SmartPack Trailer monitoring system is used, for example, captured trailer images and processed data is sent by the LMU to a backend server where an analytics engine calculates metrics such as load density, trailer fullness and load status in real time. Data from the customer’s package sortation system can then be integrated to capture additional metrics such as package volume or weight. The server then processes the load status information with business logic to create visualisations presented to dock managers on a user-friendly dashboard via ruggedised tablets, kiosks or monitors with customisable alarms.

For example, loads with current load density below 60 per cent can be flagged so that dock managers can address and fix the problem before the end of the load. Systems such as SmartPack also enable the generation of predictive alerts – for example, it may alert that if the loader goes on loading in this manner, this trailer’s load density will be low.



The maneuvering capabilities of warehouse robots are maturing fast and it is predicted that, in the future, loading activities at the dock door will be completely automated, freeing up team members to do other jobs. Until that time, package loaders, dock managers and line-haul operators need all the help they can get to run their operations in an optimal way. The decade-long research and field experience of Zebra’s technical team in understanding and solving this parcel problem suggests that using 3D sensors, alongside cameras, provides the necessary accuracy to support solutions that will boost dock loading efficiency. Real-time monitoring systems such as SmartPack Trailer have been shown to increase both loading speed and load density.

But that is not the whole story: once real-time load data from a solution such as the SmartPack Trailer system is available, customers quickly discover that the possible operational efficiency gained by accessing this data go far beyond load speed and load density. Package damage can be reduced, and loss prevention can be better implemented. Package loader safety can also be boosted through detection of workers’ positions when lifting packages.

The T&L industry is quickly finding out that to meet emerging challenges – increasing package traffic, emerging competitors and environmental concerns – they need more detailed real-time data from the loading dock and intuitive visualisation of this data. 3D technology, incorporated into full monitoring solutions like SmartPack Trailer, will help them achieve this.

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