May 17, 2020

How Siemens and DHL created first ever post code and mail sorting automation

Duetsche Post DHL
European logistics
4 min
The first Siemens mail sorting system was commissioned in Pforzheim, Germany, in 1965
Follow @SamJermy and @SupplyChainD on Twitter.

For 50 years, advanced technology from Siemens has been helping Deutsche Post sort the mail efficientl...

Follow @SamJermy and @SupplyChainD on Twitter.


For 50 years, advanced technology from Siemens has been helping Deutsche Post sort the mail efficiently. Siemens technology has successfully led the way through generation after generation of sorting machines, ensuring that mail are sorted not just accurately, but cost-effectively as well.

The origins of automated mail sorting extend back quite some way. Between 1950 and the beginning of the 1960s the mail volume in Germany more than doubled, from 4.2 billion items a year to 9.3 billion. This made finding a way to automate the mail sorting process essential. Siemens started work on the development of an automated sorting system in 1958 in collaboration with Deutsche Bundespost's postal engineering centre. Deutsche Bundespost introduced the world's first system of postal codes in 1961, in the process creating the basis for automated sorting.

RELATED READS: Parcel Wars: FedEx to buy TNT as European fight against DHL and UPS continues

OPINION: DHL on exporter confidence and manufacturing growth


The key technical prerequisites, including printing a machine-readable code on mail pieces and the scanning of this code for subsequent processing, were tested in the same year, 1961, at the Munich 2 post office. The initial trials used a simple arrangement consisting of a coding station and a sorting machine with no additional conveyors. Larger components of the system were unveiled to the public for the first time at the 1963 Hannover Messe trade fair in Germany.

On May 31, 1965, the world's first automated mail sorting system was officially commissioned in Pforzheim, Germany. The system developed and built by Siemens comprised 14 manual coding stations and three sorting carousels (known as "rotundas"), each with 100 outlets for different destinations. Postal service workers at the coding stations entered the postal codes manually using a keyboard and the corresponding bar code was printed on the envelope. The machine then sorted outgoing and incoming items using this bar code. The German postal service automated more and more of its mail processing operations over the following years. At the end of the 1970s the first facility to include automated address reading as well was commissioned in Wiesbaden. The address readers used were capable of reading and coding about 70 percent of postal codes in machine-printed addresses automatically.

The Pforzheim mail sorting system was replaced with a new state-of-the-art facility in 1981. Smaller and far less noisy, the new system provided much better working conditions for coding personnel, who were now able to view the items on a special flicker-free monitor instead of having to work right next to the machinery itself.

Mail sorting in Germany had been largely automated by the beginning of the 1990s, by which time mail sorting machines were operating at no fewer than 53 different locations.

Deutsche Post DHL embarked on a further round of modernization in 2009. In cooperation with experts from Deutsche Post DHL, Siemens developed an entirely new generation of standard letter and flats sorting machines, specifically matched to the customer's needs. These machines have since sorted many billions of items ranging from postcards, magazines and newspapers to small parcels with a thickness of up to 32 millimetres and a weight of up to two kilograms. Coding is also now largely automated: more than 90 percent of handwritten addresses can be machine-read without help from coding personnel. Letters and large letters are automatically sorted into their precise delivery sequence – the actual order in which the mail will be delivered to the addresses.

Mail sorting machines of the latest generation have also been installed at mail sorting center 75 in Pforzheim. The center is designed to process between 750,000 and 1.5 million mail pieces every day, helped by Siemens’ mail sorting systems capable of sorting more than 50,000 items per hour.

Today, 50 years on from the grand opening of the first automated mail sorting system, Siemens Postal, Parcel & Airport Logistics ranks as a global market leader for mail sorting systems. About 23,000 systems using Siemens technology are reliably sorting the mail in more than 60 countries and almost all postal service providers of note around the world rely on customer-friendly sorting technology from

Siemens Postal, Parcel & Airport Logistics headquartered in Constance, Germany, is a fully owned subsidiary of Siemens AG. SPPAL is a leading provider of innovative products and solutions in mail and parcel logistics and automation as well as in airport logistics with baggage and cargo handling. Software solutions and customer services along the complete product life cycle complete the portfolio. The company has an installed base in more than 60 countries worldwide. Major customers include renowned airports as well as postal and parcel service providers around the globe. Further information is available on the Internet at:

September 30, 2014, Siemens generated revenue from continuing operations of €71.9 billion and net income of €5.5 billion. At the end of September 2014, the company had around 343,000 employees worldwide on a continuing basis. Further information is available at

Share article

Jun 8, 2021

DHL Claim Multi-Sector Collaboration Key to Fighting COVID

3 min
Global logistics leader DHL’s new white paper highlights what supply chain professionals have learned one year into the pandemic

Since January, global logistics leader DHL has distributed more than 200 million doses of the COVID vaccine to 120+ countries around the globe. While the US and UK recently rolled out immunisation plans to most citizens, countries with less developed infrastructure still desperately need more doses. In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which currently has one of the highest per-capita immunisation rates, the government set up storage facilities to cover domestic and international demand. But storage, as we’ve learned, is little help if you can’t transport the goods.


This is where logistics leaders such as DHL make their impact. The company built over 50 new partnerships, bilateral and multilateral, to collaborate with pharmaceutical and private sector firms. With more than 350 DHL centres pressed into service, the group operated 9,000+ flights to ship the vaccine where it needed to go. 


Public-Private Partnerships

With new pandemic knowledge, DHL just released its “Revisiting Pandemic Resilience” white paper, which examined the role of logistics and supply chain companies in handling COVID-19. As Thomas Ellman, Head of Clinical Trials Logistics at DHL, said: “The past one year has highlighted the importance of logistics and supply chain management to manage the pandemic, ensure business continuity and protect public health. It has also shown us that together we are stronger”. 


Multisector partnerships, DHL said, enabled rapid, effective vaccine distribution. While international scientists developed a vaccine in record time—five times faster than any other vaccine in history—manufacturers ramped up production and logistics teams rolled out distribution three times faster than expected. When commercial routes faced backups, logistics operators worked with military officers to transport vaccines via helicopters and boats. 


In the UAE, the public-private HOPE Consortium distributed billions of COVID-19 doses to its civilians as well as other countries in need by partnering with commercial organisations such as DHL. For the first time, apropo for an unprecedented pandemic, logistics companies made strong connections with public health and government.


“While the race against the virus continues, leveraging the power of such collaborations and data analytics will be key”, said Katja Busch, Chief Commercial Officer DHL and Head of DHL Customer Solutions & Innovation. “We need to remain prepared for high patient and vaccine volumes, maintain logistics infrastructure and capacity, while planning for seasonal fluctuations by providing a stable and well-equipped platform for the years to come”. 


How Do We Sustain Immunisation? 

By the end of 2021, experts estimate that we need approximately 10 billion doses of vaccines—many of which will be shipped to areas of the world, such as India, South Africa, and Brazil, that lack significant infrastructure. This is perhaps the greatest divide between countries that have rolled out successful immunisation programmes and those that have not. As Busch noted, “the UAE’s significant investments in creating robust air, sea, and land infrastructure facilitated logistics and vaccine distribution, helping us keep supply chains resilient”. 


Neither is the novel coronavirus a one-time affair. If predictions hold, COVID will be similar to seasonal colds or the flu: here to stay. When fall comes around each year, governments will need to vaccinate the world as quickly as possible to ensure long-term immunisation against the virus. This time, logistics companies must be better prepared. 

Yet global immunisation, year after year, is no small order. To keep reinfection rates low and slow the spread of COVID, governments will likely need 7-9 billion annual doses of the vaccine to meet that mark. And if DHL’s white paper is any judge of success, multi-sector supply chain partnerships will set the gold standard.

Share article