Technology providers now offer advanced electronic locking and access solutions to enhance the security of valuable last-mile delivery vehicles and storage infrastructure.  -  Photo: Work Truck

Technology providers now offer advanced electronic locking and access solutions to enhance the security of valuable last-mile delivery vehicles and storage infrastructure.

Photo: Work Truck

Technology, in tandem with changing customer expectations, is driving new developments in our communities — suburban, exurban environments, and more densely populated urban settings.

Factors like the rise of advanced digital devices and communications tools, growth in electric vehicle (EV) use, and e-commerce home delivery power the ongoing growth of “smart cities.”

The increasing demand for next-day/same-day delivery services drives the need to improve last-mile delivery infrastructure.

Expanded delivery fleets, including autonomous robot versions, as well as self-service kiosks and delivery lockers, carry, store, and deliver valuable packages to end users. In many cases, the latest vehicles and storage lockers also contain valuable digital electronics.

Securing these packages and materials, while making it easier and more cost-effective to support last-mile delivery operations, is a critical industry and customer goal.

Technology suppliers now offer sophisticated electronic locking and access solutions (EAS) to secure valuable last-mile delivery vehicles and storage infrastructure.

Simple and smart electronic devices such as the new Universal Lock Sensor from Southco can cost-effectively add a way to confirm that an existing mechanical latch on a storage locker door or access panel has been fully locked and secured.  -  Photo: Southco

Simple and smart electronic devices such as the new Universal Lock Sensor from Southco can cost-effectively add a way to confirm that an existing mechanical latch on a storage locker door or access panel has been fully locked and secured.

Photo: Southco

Access Hardware Offers Critical Functionality

Pickup/drop-off (PUDO) storage systems are an expanding application for innovative locking and latching solutions.

In cities and large apartment complexes, these are often in secure rooms within buildings only accessible by residents. However, more and more of these PUDO lockers are being installed in busier commercial locations, such as big box hardware stores.

Many apartment and condo complexes have outdoor group mailboxes (often for the United States Postal Service) that typically use basic, key-operated mechanical locks.

Last mile PUDO systems store much more valuable products, leading companies to invest in stronger, more secure, and more flexible systems built around electronic locks and EAS platforms.

Intelligent electronic access solutions, like Southco’s R4-50, are now being offered in more compact versions to make it easier to use in the tight dimensions of delivery vehicle storage cabinets and PUDO lockers.  -  Photo: Southco

Intelligent electronic access solutions, like Southco’s R4-50, are now being offered in more compact versions to make it easier to use in the tight dimensions of delivery vehicle storage cabinets and PUDO lockers.

Photo: Southco

An electronic access solution comprises three primary components:

  1. Access control or input device.
  2. Electromechanical lock.
  3. A system for monitoring and controlling access to a locker.

Electronic access platforms offer security with a range of price points and design features. Historically, for PUDO locations, it was common to use keypads with access codes. However, those are only useful if each locker is dedicated to a specific user or resident.

Most parcel delivery lockers in apartment buildings, residential developments, and commercial facilities operate as shared facilities: packages are left in a specific storage locker and the recipient is notified which unit to access to get their parcel.

Many access hardware suppliers now offer complete solutions that incorporate all the electronic and hardware components, and some combine them with smartphone apps that make package retrieval safe and easy.

Users — both delivery drivers and parcel customers — load the app on their smartphones. The delivery person uses the app to open a specific locker, and then the system sends a notification to the customer identifying the locker where the package is stored.

They also receive a secure, time-based electronic key to open the locker. The electronic lock uses a Bluetooth interface to actuate the lock when the package is retrieved; it also sends a signal to the delivery company that the parcel has been picked up, providing access history of the transaction.

Tech That Makes Transactions Easier

The recent growth of near-field communications (NFC) technology makes this transaction even easier. The electronic key stored on the smartphone can automatically open lockers without forcing users to open their smartphone to initiate the transaction.

Closing the loop and confirming that the correct recipient has picked up a package is a key requirement for these PUDO lockers.

They are valuable for many delivery applications, not just personal parcels. Propane cylinder pickup and return is one example.

Upgrading these units — commonly found in many retail locations — to EAS platforms can streamline cylinder purchases (no more waiting for a store associate to come and unlock the storage unit).

Electronic locking suppliers now provide cost-effective sensors to upgrade purely mechanical locks with latch-sensing features.

The sensor can be added to a storage locker latch to send a signal to a security system or other tracking platform to confirm it is fully closed and locked after retrieval or drop-off.

EAS Improves Last-Mile Delivery Efficiency

Last-mile delivery vehicles and personnel face demanding operating challenges. Customers have become accustomed to highly reliable next-day or even same-day service.

While security is vital, so is efficiency: by some estimates, 35% to 40% of the cost of delivering a package is incurred in the last mile.

In some regions, delivery services estimate they deliver from 250-300 packages a shift, or 20-30 stops per hour, depending on the weather and the driving routes. If it takes a few seconds each time a delivery person enters a vehicle or accesses a storage area, lost time can quickly add up.

Security and efficiency can be enhanced in this process with the right electronic access solution. There are three application zones for locking mechanisms on a typical delivery vehicle: the driver door, the bulkhead door and the main rear door (commonly a roll-up door).

Many older vehicles have different locks for each door, often mechanical locks. Leaving the driver door open and unlocking the rear door 20-30 times during an entire shift isn’t that inefficient in rural areas. But in urban areas and suburban developments with denser populations, delivery drivers may need to park their vehicles for longer periods to deliver multiple packages.

Leaving the vehicle unsecured and vulnerable in these settings is too risky. With EAS platforms, securing all three panels every time the driver leaves the vehicle unattended is simple. Drivers can be equipped with a key fob or smartphone app that automatically locks the doors when they move a set distance from the vehicle and unlocks them when they return.

Electronic access solutions utilize smartphone apps and near field communications to transmit unique, virtual keys to last mile delivery drivers and pick up/drop off points to provide safe, easy and trackable access to high value items stored within vehicles or delivered to storage lockers.  -  Photo: Southco

Electronic access solutions utilize smartphone apps and near field communications to transmit unique, virtual keys to last mile delivery drivers and pick up/drop off points to provide safe, easy and trackable access to high value items stored within vehicles or delivered to storage lockers.

Photo: Southco

Improving Fleet Management

This smartphone-based system can also improve fleet management: tracking which key fob to give to which driver each shift is no longer necessary. In addition, the access history helps delivery operations keep closer track of the security of their vehicles and help improve operations.

Efficient operations require reliable lock-and-latch mechanisms that withstand heavy-duty locking/unlocking cycles. When selecting electronic locks, it makes sense to consider latching mechanisms demonstrating reliable operation for 150,000 to 250,000 cycles.

Given the increasing demand for last-mile delivery, leading manufacturers are working to raise that number to half a million, or even a million cycles. They are also developing electronic latches with smaller profiles so they can be installed on smaller storage cabinets in delivery vehicles and PUDO lockers that need to fit into tight footprints.

Powering these electronic locks is also becoming easier, especially for retrofit applications of existing lockers.

New electronic locks being launched are very energy-efficient and are powered by coin cell batteries. No extra wiring is needed, and the locks are engineered to operate for up to three years before battery replacement would be required.

Smarter Approach to Improving Last Mile Delivery

Electronic access systems offer multiple ways to help improve the security and efficiency of last-mile delivery operations.

To develop the most optimal solutions for a given application zone — the vehicle and the storage units — experienced access hardware suppliers can supply effective insight on the best technology to use for a specific application or set of challenges.

Choosing a proven supplier can help ensure that no matter what platform is used to get the package through the last mile, efficient, smart and secure electronic access solutions can be supplied to meet the needs of each unique application.

About the Author: James Stroud is the manager of product management at Southco. Southco is a designer and manufacturer of engineered access solutions. This article was authored and edited according to WT editorial standards and style. Opinions expressed may not reflect that of WT.

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