Night manoeuvres with Securicoes package deal
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SECURICOR is best known for its cash-carrying vans, which call at banks in virtually every High Street in the country. In fact, this is just one aspect of the company's business. Its other activities include a worldwide courier service, property guards, a London motorcycle messenger service (Pony Express), a fire and burglar alarm business, a radiotelephone service and office cleaning.
But the fastest growing part of the Securicor's business is its parcels service, which now accounts for around one third of the company's £195m annual turnover. Not bad for something that started in the most modest manner — with two Ford Zephyrs.
Established in 1935, Securicor has always had a definite nocturnal slant and its first business was to provide uniformed men on bicycles to guard large private houses in the exclusive North London suburb of St John's Wood while their owners were away at night and weekends.
About 15 years ago, when the property guarding business had expanded, some of its customers asked Securicor to move bank computer data during the night. The two Ford Zephyrs were pressed into service, and before very long the odd parcel was mixed in with the computer data There are now about 1,650 vehicles in the parcels fleet operating from 200 branches throughout the British Isles. Parcels can also be delivered or collected in France, Belgium, West Germany, Holland and Luxembourg.
In the UK, Securicor offers two levels of service. The main one is the "next-day" service which gives delivery the day after collection for parcels up to 25kg and which do not exceed 1.2m (4ft) in any dimension or 0.11cum (4cuft) in volume.
The other service is called the 2/50 service, and this normally delivers within two working days but will handle parcels up to 50kg which do not exceed 1.Bm (eft) in any one dimension or 0.23cum (8cuft) in volume.
These weight and dimensional restrictions (which are also usea by some of the other express parcels carriers) were chosen so that the parcels could be easily handled by one person without any handling devices. Speed is of the essence.
This two-tier service is also typical of the other carriers in the highly competitive express parcels business, but most of the competition arrived at this system in the opposite way. They were standard parcel carriers offering twoor three-day transit times and moved up to the "next day" market later on. Securicor, on the other hand, started with the next-day service and developed its two-day 2/50 service just three years ago.
The 2/50 service was introduced to make better use of the depots and systems that were already in existence. The service bridges the gap between a parcel service and distribution, being primarily aimed at companies that want a rapid distribution service for individual consignments.
Looking at both the services, there has been a significant trend towards contract work with regular customers. Most of the parcels are from manufacturers or wholesalers and are destined for retailers. Electronic equipment, cameras, sports goods, records, cosmetics, and brochures are among the most regular traffic. All are needed quickly to respond to market demands.
Medical supplies and spare parts for vehicles or plant are also frequently sent through the services. Other, rather more exclusive parcels, are radioactive materials (Securicor is the only nationwide carrier of these), football pool coupons, and human kidneys (for the National Kidney Unit).
To find out exactly how a parcel moves through the system, we decided to follow one from origin to destination. The parcel selected was starting its journey near Ramsgate in Kent and was heading for near Loughborough. It was travelling on the next-day delivery service.
One of the collection and delivery vehicles based at Securicor's Ramsgate depot picked up the parcel midway through a Thursday afternoon. The majority of the c and d vehicles are Ford Transits (with payloads of around 17cwt or 35cwt) or 7.5 tonne gvw non-hgv boxvans. These are also Fords; either 00710 or its replacement, the Cargo 0811.
Having picked up our parcel, the collection and delivery vehicle returned to the Ramsgate depot at approximately 4pm. Along with the other parcels collected that day it was immediately sorted according to the type of service required — next day or 2/50. The next-day parcels were then sorted according to their destination and placed on the appropriate bays for the trunk to the next depot in the journey chain.
When the majority of the nation was thinking of finishing their day's work, Bob Young, the Ramsgate Securicor driver who was to take the parcel on the first leg of the trunk journey, was starting his.
The Ford D0710 box van was about half loaded with parcels when he left Ramsgate. After a brief stop at the Canterbury depot he arrived at the Securicor branch at Aylesford near Maidstone, Kent at 6.40pm.
Waiting for him were two piles of parcels. The first was from one contract customer, a pharmaceutical manufacturer on the Isle of Sheppey who is one of Aylesford's largest clients. The other pile was a host of smaller parcels collected in the Maidstone area that day. They were a typical cross-section of the regular traffic and I spotted several bundles of holiday brochures destined for a travel agent, some rolls of wallpaper, a reel of cinema film and many anonymous parcels.
Two loaders helped Bob load these into the Ford, which was filled to the roof. At one time, Securicor vehicles had rear roller shutters but these sometimes jammed when the parcels were against the shutter, so conventional doors are now specified. The bodies are built by Securicor's own bodybuilding subsidiary, Bedwas of Caerphilly.
After sealing the back doors, Bob left the Aylesford depot at 7.20pm, just 40 minutes after his arrival. Taking the M2, he headed for London, or to be more precise, Securicor's Wandsworth depot next to the New Covent Garden Market. He arrived there at 8.25pm and once he had shown his identification, the roller shutter lifted to allow him into the depot.
Serving the major part of London, the Wandsworth depot is a nerve centre for the Securicor parcels network. Approximately 200 vehicles pass through here each night. Each one has to be unloaded, reloaded, and sent on its way again with the minimum of delay.
At the busiest time of the night there can be a queue of vehicles waiting to get onto one of the three unloading banks. It was 20 minutes before it was Bob's turn to reverse the Ford D0710 onto a bank and a team of sorters/unloaders immediately tackled the vehicle, taking each parcel off, reading the address and placing it on one of four conveyors corresponding to particular regions of the country.
It took these practised men just 20 minutes to unload the whole vehicle so that Bob could pull round to the loading side of the depot. He was to load up with parcels destined for his home area and was due to leave Wandsworth at 10pm. Dropping some off at Aylesford en route, he would be back at Ramsgate around midnight, but I was to stay on the track of our parcel.
After disappearing up one of the conveyors at Wandsworth, the parcels are sorted a second time into individual towns and placed in bins which group adjacent towns together. The nowempty vehicles reverse up to the appropriate bins and are loaded by their drivers. The bins remain behind. Coincidentally, the week 1 visited Wandsworth was the depot's last week of operation. Securicor has now outgrown the place. That wait to get onto an unloading bay is not acceptable, and there is far too little room for manouevring. The overcrowding is made worse because of the increasing use of 7.5 tanners instead of Ford Transits.
So, by the time you read this, a new Wandsworth Securicor depot will be in full swing. It is very close to the old one, but is totally different.
A vast, purpose-built depot, it still has relatively few unloading bays (four) but the vehicles can be unloaded far more quickly. This is due to extending conveyors that can go right into the back of the vehicle.
The initial stage of sorting into regions while the vehicle is on the unloading bank has also been eliminated. Instead of having to physically place the parcels on the appropriate conveyor, the operator merely has to push a button which operates a paddle to divert the parcel to the correct part of the conveyor system. This takes place several hundred feet along the conveyor, once the vehicle has left the unloading bank.
The progress of the parcels through this immense showpiece of a depot is monitored by a central control panel similar to that of a modern railway signal control box. This means that the parcels come down the conveyors automatically to one of the 55 loading bays — and a great deal quicker.
Meanwhile, back in the last few days of the old Wandsworth depot, our parcel is now being loaded on the night trunk vehicle for Loughborough. This evening it is being driven by Wandsworth-based driver Alexander Clark who had come on duty at 8.45pm that evening. With his Ford Cargo 0811 7,5 tonner loaded up, he left Wandsworth at the scheduled time of 9.45pm.
Hyde Park Corner, Park Lane, Marble Arch, Edgware Road; Alexander took the usual route to the bottom of the Ml. There was a diversion off the motorway round Watford to allow work to continue at night on widening the old two-lane section. Once back on the motorway, the Cargo kept to a steady 60 mph until leaving it at junction 23. From here it was just a few miles to Securicor's Loughborough depot which Alexander reached shortly after half-past midnight.
This time it was straight onto the unloading bank where once again a team of sorters/unloaders got to work on the vehicle. At this point in the journey our parcel had travelled approximately 200 miles since being collected' near Ramsgate that afternoon. It had taken 10 hours and its progress had not been halted at a sorting depot for longer than 80 minutes. It was now lam on the following day. The parcel was about five miles from it destination and was being sorted for the third and final time.
Alexander Clark was to reload the Cargo with London-based parcels, leave Loughborough at 2am, and arrive back at Wandsworth at 4.45am to finish
his working "day". A day driver would then take over the same Ford Cargo and use it for collection and delivery work.
That many of the vehicles double for both trunking and collection and delivery work is one of the major factors affecting the size of vehicle chosen. Although further 16 ton gvw boxvans would be useful for night trunking, they would be a little cumbersome for some of the collection arid delivery work. This explains why there are only 33 16-tonners in the Securicor parcels fleet.
However, the 7.5 tonners are fairly versatile and adapt reasonably well to both roles, and there are now 405 in the fleet. If the business continues to grow at a good rate it is likely that as some of the Transits come up for replacement, 7.5 tanners will take their place.
Back at the Loughborough depot, the parcels for destinations beyond the immediate vicinity were sorted into groups of towns and placed in the bins ready for the trunkers to come in within the next hour or so (around 2am) to take them on the next leg of the journey.
Our parcel, together with the others for addresses in the Loughborough area, was placed to one side. This particular depot serves as a master depot for a smaller one in the area as well as covering collections and deliveries within a 10-mile radius.
The day men for the collection and delivery rounds come in te tween 6am and 8am to load the vehicles and get out on the roa( The general pattern is to delivE in the morning and collect in th afternoon, but like most othE express carriers this format i not rigidly adhered to, much dE pending on the route taken an the location of the deliveries an collections.
The driver must chec whether he has any "A" catE gory parcels. On its next-day sei vice, Securicor offers A and I categories; the A parcels mut be delivered by 12 noon.
Our parcel was delivered to it destination near Loughborougl at around 10am on Friday. It he come 210 miles and had take 19 hours door-to-door fror Ramsgate. Cost of the service fa next day delivery is £5 per car signment plus 25p per kilogram In some aspects, Securicor service is bettered by one or tw of its competitors. For instancE the competitor, might offer slightly faster service to the ON treme parts of Scotland or sorni of the off-shore islands. The may take larger parcels or offer , money-back guarantee if thl promised next-day delivery doe not materialise. Securicor expli citly states that it will not delive to docks and will carry certaii materials such as glass, liquid and the like only by prior at rangement.
However, the growth in Secu ricor's parcels business speak for itself. From what I have see of the network, it is a well-orga nised, tightly-run system an' offers a quality delivery servicE And even in the face of new, ag gressive marketing by some o the other express parcels cal riers reliability of delivery is sti what the customer most wants.