How to Find the Right Automated Sortation Solution
This blog is a continuation of a series of three for DCs needing to expand sortation capacity to keep up with the growing demands of e-commerce. You can read the first installment on the market drivers that are creating growing demand for automated sortation.
Whether your e-commerce fulfillment operation is housed in a greenfield site or an existing facility, you probably face growing demands to scale up your sortation capacity. This leads to a matchmaking game, in which success depends on finding the optimal automated sortation system to meet your operational requirements. The decision-making process should include these three key steps:
- Gather critical information about your orders.
- Number of orders handled per day
- The breakdown of multi- and single-line orders
- Packaging types used and their degree of dimensional consistency (or inconsistency) among outbound orders
One of the biggest considerations among collected order data involves the wider adoption of smaller, more malleable packaging types — such as envelopes, polybags and bubble mailers — used for direct-to-consumer shipments. These lighter-weight packages have become increasingly more common in response to the introduction of widespread dimensional weight pricing by carriers. But while they cost less to ship, they can create additional catch points that increase the chances of sortation conveyor jams or loop recirculation.
Modern fulfillment centers should consider the degree to which they currently (or will increasingly) handle a mix of malleable polybags, rigid corrugated cases and flexible bubble mailers. This means deploying a sortation system capable of reliably handling the unique challenges of all packaging types.
- Determine the intended outcome of the sort.
- Is the sortation process intended to facilitate more effective order consolidation? This common order fulfillment process drives greater picking efficiency, yet requires a system with a large number of sort destinations in a limited space. This plays to the strengths of loop sortation technology, such as a cross-belt sorter , which allows items to travel around the loop while awaiting other picks required by the same order to arrive prior to pack-out.
- Is the intention to sort items to the proper shipping trailer as they leave the facility? This type of workflow transports packed items from pack-out to outbound shipping and diverts the items to different destinations at the outbound dock. To efficiently accommodate a high number of destination locations, outbound sortation is commonly addressed with line sortation technology such as a sliding shoe sorter .
- Consider the desired throughput rate of the system.
- With the high order volumes of e-commerce putting stress on the capacity of existing systems, warehouse throughput rates at both standard and peak periods are critical considerations when selecting the most optimal automated sortation technology. Throughput rates can fuel return on investment calculations, as well as provide room for operations to scale for the future — a critical consideration for maximizing long-term value.
But be careful not to equate throughput with speed. Rate of travel alone means nothing without proper product gapping, gentle handling and accuracy. Ensuring that the system accommodates appropriate spacing between parcels to facilitate data capture during transport and handing so that items are sorted to the correct destination is key.
Recent innovations in these types of sortation functions enable higher throughput without a corresponding increase in equipment speed — which ultimately reduces wear, energy usage and noise for a better long-term investment.
Find more information in our white paper, Buried By E-Commerce? Expand Sortation Capacity to Keep Up.