MUM’s The Word

By Aaron Amundson

In the world of baggage handling there is a constant drive to increase the speed, accuracy, and safety of baggage processing. Many systems designed to increase the operational efficiency of baggage processing are currently in development. One notable project is Amsterdam Airport Schiphol’s 70MB (70 Million Bag) program, which marks another milestone with the implementation of a new mechanical unloading system.

Commitment to Infrastructure
The premise of Schiphol’s 70MB infrastructure investment plan has been to remain a viable transfer hub, and become the focus of increased air traffic, which requires an efficient and comprehensive baggage handling system. To achieve this, an investment of almost 800 million Euro has been allotted towards the development of a new and comprehensive baggage handling system. It has been designed to span nearly every aspect of the baggage experience, from an automated check-in for passengers and state-of-the-art radio tagging of luggage to robotic systems, which remove the need for human lifting in the loading and unloading process.

It is Schiphol and its airline partners’ hope that, with the implementation of these new systems, the airport will achieve the capability to process the 70 million bags they intend to handle on a yearly basis in the near future. The branch of this program, which has been at the forefront of development recently, is the mechanical unloading module, or MUM. This development is being carried out by the airport with the assistance of KLM, who, as the primary carrier to Schiphol, will depend most heavily on the
new system.

The development of the MUM system marks a new step in baggage handling technology. In this handling system, baggage containers are removed from the aircraft and put into a conveyor system known as the automatic loading transport, or ALT. This conveyor links all terminals to a centrally located baggage processing area, and the MUM system. Baggage enters the MUM system, which lifts and tips containers, emptying them on a lateral conveyor for sorting and processing. The system is equipped with cameras to record baggage positioning, allowing it to make automated adjustments as necessary.

It was designed to allow handlers to unload containers and trolleys without physical effort and avoid many of the dangers inherent in the process. The new system was developed to serve the double function of improving both efficiency and safety.

In the short time that MUM has been in operation at Schiphol, it has demonstrated increased efficiency, according to Branco Dennenberg, an HR manager with KLM who has been heavily involved in the development process. “Our minimum goal is that we have a thousand bags an hour unloaded into the system,” he says. “That’s what we do manually. And this unloading machine is now up to 1100 bags an hour with mechanical unloading.” These numbers will only increase as the infrastructure surrounding the MUM unit finishes development, according to Dennenberg.

He adds that another benefit of the machine is that it allows an increase in speed without the exhaustion and exertion to which human handlers are subject. “The machine doesn’t take breaks; it can work 24 hours,” he says.

The MUM unit’s successful performance has prompted the airline to consider implementing four additional units.

Ease of Use
As with any technological advancement in the GSE industry, the true test of MUM’s value has been in its ease of implementation. The system was designed to enable use by ramp workers after a week of theoretical training and practice, carried out under the supervision of the development team. “We wanted to make the working of the module as easy as possible with the idea that all team members and employees can work with the module,” he says.

To maximize team experience with the module, the system is currently operated by as many as four employees at once, but as the system becomes more widely utilized, this number will be reduced to one or two, according to Dennenberg. The goal of Schiphol and KLM is that the gradual implementation of these advanced systems will enable the projected baggage capacity needs (70 million baggage items) to be handled by a staff roughly the same size as is currently employed. MUM is not a system designed to replace workers on the ramp, but to more effectively utilize staff and expand capability, according to Dennenberg.

The Backbone
MUM is the latest step in Schiphol’s widescale improvement and modernization program. The ALT conveyor system developed to carry luggage to the baggage areas is an extension of a program known as Backbone. The goal of Backbone is to create a completely integrated system of conveyors connecting the entire airport with central baggage handling. This allows detailed central control of all baggage movement, allowing fast-tracking of priority bags while storing cold baggage until it is needed, leaving the system open for more urgent use.

This integrated conveyer system has become necessary as Schiphol is quickly running out of space for expansion. The cost of land purchase and development at any airport is extremely high, but even more so in Amsterdam, whose sub-sea-level elevation requires an expensive construction process. Instead of worrying about limits to expansion, they focus on maximizing their efficient usage of existing space. By setting aside areas to hold non-essential luggage, the available channels of movement can be utilized on a priority-based system which increases turnover speed and reduces disruption. If one line fails, a backup line springs into use, and the highest priority bags are given precedence on this line until the original conveyor is back in operation. This centrally controlled and comprehensive approach to baggage management allows for optimal efficiency from the moment a bag enters the system to its delivery at the plane, according to Dennenberg.

The energy and resources Schiphol has put into pre-emptive baggage solutions have been a key factor in its development as a major hub for European air travel. With the partnership of KLM, Schiphol’s largest airline, they continually forge ahead with projects designed to increase overall efficiency. As stated by the airport in a release, Schiphol currently processes almost 50 million baggage items every year, 43 percent of which is transfer luggage. Instead of trusting their existing infrastructure to process this baggage, they have constantly striven to make the next step in handling technology.