For smaller parcels, the company also hosts its semi-automated “Blue Robot” system at its Hangzhou facility. After a warehouse worker places a parcel on a robot, the robot will move into a location that will weigh the package from underneath and scan the package from the top – with this data the parcel will be accordingly sorted to its proper channel. The system supports the sorting of packages for regional distribution and handles around 200,000 parcels per hour.
YTO Express began using this robot technology in 2017 in partnership with Cainiao. Currently, however, YTO Express’ Hangzhou facility is the only hub that hosts these operations as it is not a popular system due to the weight limitation for parcels between 100 grams to 3 kilograms. Investment in the whole system with 400 bots also costs around 8 million yuan.
Even with these initial challenges, YTO Cargo Airlines VP Commercial Meng Zhang said that this is the technology of the future. He said that YTO Express is also researching options to develop a similar system that can handle up to 100 kilograms, but that this technology has not been developed yet and relies also on customer demand and interest. Further details for this project are yet to be determined.
In 2018, YTO Express handled 6.6 billion parcels, an increase of 31.6% compared to the year prior. Even with this impressive growth, with ongoing global trade tensions, Zhang maintains a conservative view on growth for the company in 2019.