All things PSMs

Wrapping up the latest on our automation journey, as we sit down with Carol Bolland

As part of our series of articles building up to the next parcel sorting machine to go live in our operation, at Tyneside Mail Centre, PAUL SMITH sat down with Carol Bolland, people change lead for our automation project, to discuss how our people and automation go hand-in-hand. Carol also shares the latest on Tyneside’s implementation…

Carol, to start with, please describe the role you play in our automation journey.

I’ve worked at Royal Mail for 35 years, but in the last three years I’ve moved into this role supporting parcel automation from a people perspective. My primary focus is to work with the parcels automation operational project team to deliver automation, and the change that it brings, with minimal impact to our people. And to do it in an engaging way for the people who are going to operate the machines. We look at how to make the job roles interesting, how we get volunteers to work on the machines and to make their training engaging. I also work closely with both trade unions – the CWU and Unite CMA – and hold regular joint working groups to make sure we’re aligned, and everything runs smoothly.

What’s the typical colleague reaction as they begin to work towards using parcel sorting machines (PSMs)?

What I find rewarding is seeing and speaking to people about how much they enjoy working on our PSMs. What the machines have brought to the process environment is job rotation and job enrichment. Colleagues switch between tasks every 2 hours which creates flexibility and provides a sense of fulfilment for the operators. Overall output and productivity information is available on the screens around the machine and this enables colleagues to compare performance between shifts, giving a sense of purpose and achievement to the PSM operational team. As a project team, we want to ensure that we celebrate the associated success. We’ve sorted record volumes of parcels – particularly through Covid-19 – and we couldn’t have done it without the capacity that the machines created but, particularly, we couldn’t have done it without the people who work on the machines.

What’s the latest update for our Tyneside PSM (pictured)?

The build of the machine is now complete, and we are well into the various testing activities. This is a new machine, which we’re building four of within this phase of the automation programme. The first is in Tyneside Mail Centre. We’ve had a great experience at the plant with over 120 colleagues volunteering to work on the machine and great co-operation from the local management team and CWU who really want to work alongside the project team to deliver the desired results. It’s fair to say that the project has had its issues, but the team is working hard with the primary supplier to complete the remaining tasks and handover the machine to the mail centre operations team ahead of Peak.

Where is the business at overall with our automation journey?

We’ve currently got 20 PSMs deployed across 16 plants. After Tyneside we’ll go into building the next two machines of the same style in Medway and Nottingham. They’ll be built across Peak and be ready to use early in the new year. Chester will be the fourth and final build and will start at the end of November. This will mean that all four of the machines are fully operational in the current financial year. We’re also rolling out another nine machines in eight plants in the next stage of the programme. That’s a different machine design that is slightly smaller and will fit into sites that have greater floorspace constraints. The first build will start in August at North West Midlands, who are very excited. Eventually they’ll be getting two of these machines. There is a business strategy in place to roll out parcels’ automation in all mail centres.

In short, you’re going to be kept busy in the months and years to come?

Absolutely – and it’s exciting. The speed in which the machines need to be installed is going to be a challenge, but that’s the exciting part. In Phase 1 of the programme. We managed a deployment each month but with the latest phase it could be two or even three per month. It’s exciting to think the business is going to become more and more automated over the next 18 months.

The CEO, Simon Thompson, has made no secret of the intention to automate. Does the team feel that pressure?

Yes. We absolutely recognise the aim to increase automation as quickly as possible. We are pushing ourselves to make sure we can deliver with the support of the business and bring in automation in a safe and effective manner. What we’ve seen so far is that automation has phenomenal benefits to the business and to the people that operate the machines.

For more in our series from Tyneside, as we’ve followed its PSM journey, click the below links.

March 2021 – Tyneside gears up

April 2021 – Protecting our future

May 2021 – Made for a PSM

11 Aug 2021