USPS gets a lift

RFID system designed for safety reporting delivers a bonus: asset management

STAMP OF APPROVAL: USPS' Carl Smith says PIVMS not only cut paperwork for its industrial vehicle fleet but gave the agency lots of data it didn't have before.

Rick Steele

When the Postal Service launched an initiative to better maintain safety records for its industrial vehicles, the goal was modest'reduce the agency's reporting burden.

Well over a year later, though, the Powered Industrial Vehicle Management System has produced a significant number of benefits, not only automating the reporting process but improving safety and helping USPS better manage its industrial fleet.

'This really helps facilitate the safer environment, the mechanics and the documentation,' said Victoria Stephen, manager of the material handling deployment within the USPS' Engineering division.

USPS started the program essentially as a pilot in January 2005, when it signed a $3.6 million contract with I.D. Systems of Hackensack, N.J., to implement a wireless asset management system at 10 bulk mailing and distribution facilities across the country. The service has since installed the system in 56 facilities.

The system consists of small vehicle-asset communicators installed on each industrial vehicle'such as forklifts and pallet movers'at the facility. Users must log into the communicator before starting the vehicle, ensuring that only certified operators can use the machine.

This data'which includes the user's identification and qualifications'is sent via radio frequency identification to several 'gateways' located throughout a mailing facility and stored in a central Microsoft SQL Server database, said Greg Smith, I.D. Systems vice president of marketing and corporate communications.

Smith said the Transportation Security Administration has used the technology as well.

The database runs on I.D. System's automated remote distribution collection software, largely written in C++, Smith said.

The database stores records on both the driver and the vehicle, including Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirements and maintenance logs. The safety information is delivered to OSHA electronically through the agency's e-Checklist.

Even more benefits

'We just eliminated the paper trail and have gone to an automated process,' said Carl Smith, PIVMS senior program manager.

But the wireless system has borne greater fruit than imagined, as it started giving USPS a much clearer picture of its industrial fleet.

Before USPS implemented the system, it had no real idea how many industrial vehicles it owned or leased, where they were or what condition they were in, Stephen said.

'We have some sites that have 200 vehicles and some sites that may only have three. ... There was just no good data,' Stephen said. 'There's a lot of interest, and it's an imperative to manage these operations more closely.'

But now, the system keeps detailed logs of how many hours each vehicle has been used, how much weight it lifted, when it was last repaired and even where it has been. If the vehicle is damaged, the device contains a historical reply function that details its path and who was driving, bringing a sense of accountability to the system, USPS' Smith said.

This has helped the agency better manage its fleet and workforce, as certain facilities have changed their schedules and reduced the operators' and vehicles' work hours.

'We have a number of initiatives for reducing work hours, and this application satisfies a number of those needs,' Stephen said. 'There are a lot of efficiencies to be gained.'

Some facilities have taken vehicles out of service, while others have transferred vehicles to stations in need, Stephen said.

In fact, officials said, USPS is saving more than 1,600 hours per month in industrial-vehicle operations at its Chicago bulk mailing facility, one of the largest in the country. This translates into approximately $64,500 a month in savings, a USPS spokeswoman said.

But Smith and Stephen admits that the Chicago savings might not be replicated everywhere, as each facility must commit to using the system and making sure its employees are properly trained.

'There is a learning curve, and this isn't a silver bullet,' Stephen said. As with any project, 'it's only as good as the use of the data.'

But that the data is even available is a considerable improvement from the status quo and gives the agency important information about its operations.

'We saw in one facility last fall, they had two vehicles not even turned on during the peak-use season,' Stephen said. 'That information, we didn't have it before.'

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