In 2020, when the world was in Covid-19 lockdown, an amazing collaboration across continents and borders and a strong “can do” mentality from all involved, made the implementation of the largest Automatic Material Handling facility in the Southern Hemisphere possible
ABOUT AUCKLAND LIBRARIES
Auckland Libraries is the public library system for the Auckland Region of New Zealand. It was created when the seven separate councils in the region merged in 2010. It is currently the largest public-library network in the Southern Hemisphere with 56 branches spread over 5,000 square kilometers, serving a population of nearly 1,600,000 residents. The library’s Collection Development Policy has four guiding principles reflecting Auckland’s diverse communities; commitment to Māori knowledge; commitment to the principle of freedom of access to information and applying the best value for the people of Auckland to purchasing and managing the collections.
The circulating collection of the library contains 2,700,000 physical items with 10,000,000 – 12,000,000 physical items checked out per year.
AMALGAMATION OF SEVEN COUNCILS
REQUIRES FOCUS ON CONSISTENCY
Central sorters are to be found in many library
systems around the world, however, the Auckland Public Libraries relied on manual sorting for their 56 libraries until December 2021. Following the amalgamation of the seven councils in 2010 the library’s focus has been on ensuring consistent practice in one Council, which has been a huge, but important task.
ENORMOUS VOLUME OF MATERIAL BEING
The enormous volume of material moving around the libraries‘ network of branches has created many pain points. The principal among these is that the manual process requires printing and inserting a ‘transit slip’ indicating each item’s destination.
This takes staff time, risks causing repetitive strain injuries and creates high volumes of paper waste as the transit slips are discarded when the items arrive at their destinations.
IMMS™ BECOMING OF INTEREST
The journey to the sorter began somewhat
unexpectedly. Catherine Leonard, Head of Library and Learning Services, heard about the integration with Sierra (Auckland’s Library Management System) of software designed to assist collection management.
The Intelligent Materials Management System (IMMS) enables libraries to remotely control the volume and range of material sent to branch libraries resulting in an allocation of material suited to each library’s profile, higher return on investment, less crowded shelves, a reduction of superseded items distributed, and less front-line staff time spent manually balancing collections.
Researching IMMS and how it is working in northern European libraries where it has been in place for several years led to several conversations with the Danish developers, Lyngsoe Systems. In these discussions, it became apparent that for Auckland, the first step had to be to purchase a sorter in order for IMMS to work as efficiently as it is intended.
THE BIGGEST SORTER IN THE SOUTHERN
The Auckland Libraries are now the proud owners
of Te Wheke – (te reo Māori for “the Octopus”
Appropriate for something with ‘arms’ or ‘tentacles’
in constant motion), a Lyngsoe SortMate, supplied
by Lyngsoe’s Australasian agent, FE Technologies.
Buying a piece of equipment like a sorter takes time
and Te Wheke required several ‘tentacles.’ Preparing
the business case for funding was just the start.
The biggest decisions were about its design and
where it would be housed. Ultimately, the library
decided on a 41-bin Lyngsoe sorter, not just
because of its obvious compatibility with IMMS, but
due to its speed, low operating noise, and most
importantly, its high uptime.
Sorters usually operate within libraries, but Te
Wheke needs 250m2 of floor space with room for
spare parts, totes, dump bins, conveyors, and pallet
lifting equipment as well as the necessity of being
close to the motorways and having all-weather
vehicle access. The library liaised with their logistics
partner, Urgent Couriers, for their expertise and
equipment for managing high material volumes.
Urgent had been operating the library’s manual sort
facility for the past five years along with delivering all
of Auckland Council’s mail and courier services.
A more positive, can-do partner would be hard to
GLOBAL PANDEMIC PUT AN END TO TESTED
The order for the large sorter was made through
FE technologies to Lyngsoe Systems in early 2020,
with the assumption that it would be produced
in Denmark, shipped to New Zealand and when
shipment had arrived in Auckland, a Danish Lyngsoe
Engineer would fly down and do the installation.
However, before the parts were ready to ship,
the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic caused both
Denmark and New Zealand to go into lockdown and
any thoughts of traveling across the world became
FAT TESTING IN DENMARK
Now the Danish engineers had to think out of the
box as Lyngsoe Systems prides itself on delivering
in the promised time. The solution was to create
a plug-and-play delivery. This was done by setting
the entire sorter up 100% as it should have been
done in Auckland but at the Lyngsoe Systems
headquarters in Aars, Denmark. The sorter had its
FAT (Factory Acceptance Test) done and was fully
commissioned before taking it all apart, leaving the
components as fully assembled as possible before
packing everything in numbered containers ready
for set-up on the other side of the world.
Factory Acceptance Test in Denmark
COLLABORATION ACROSS BORDERS
1 October was an exciting day when the Seasmile
carrying Te Wheke arrived at the Port of Auckland.
After unloading, border clearances, transportation,
and unpacking, installation could finally begin on 12
October. COVID-19 lockdown in Auckland meant
that the final installation work was contracted to a
local company working via remote instruction by
Lyngsoe Systems partners, FE Technology based in
All went smoothly and by Friday of that week all
of the components were in place and a digital
connection to Te Wheke was made enabling
configuration and testing to begin.
Training and fine-tuning adjustments were made so
that when the libraries re-opened post-COVID Te
Wheke could be put through her paces.
With COVID restrictions in Auckland easing Auckland
Libraries were finally able to celebrate Te Wheke’s
arrival into their whānau with a small ceremony, on
However, the final calibration had to wait until the
Australian FE engineer involved in the remote setup
was allowed entry into New Zealand in April 2022.
WHAT MADE IT POSSIBLE:
350,000 ITEMS SORTED THE FIRTST MONTH
The volume of material moving around the libraries’
network is high. Between 8,000 and 12,000 items per
day transit to the 56 libraries. Achieving a 24-hour
turnaround to sort this volume is a task worthy of
Te Wheke proved to be invaluable within days after
being switched on as a record 350,000 items were
sorted that November, which was not a full month of
library operations due to lockdowns.
The immediate benefits were clear:
Many transport boxes are needed.
LESS REPETITIVE STRAIN ON STAFF
Today Te Wheke sorts up to 28,000 items a day, running quietly and stably throughout its operation hours.
Staff experience markedly less strain on hands and shoulders and find it very easy to change from one sort table to another when necessary for fine sorting to the smallest libraries in the system.
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