Continued growth forces retailers to refine logistics capabilities to handle the requirements of e-commerce order fulfillment. Automated sorters are the lifeblood of a fulfillment center, providing the most efficient solution to move inventory through the facility. But with myriad sortation systems out there, how can operations choose the right one for their needs?
Sortation solutions must provide sufficient capacity to serve demand. With a target of 99.8 percent – virtually all orders – leaving on time. This is testament to the critical customer service role that high-speed sortation plays, as fast delivery accounts for much of the e-commerce customer experience.
Lower throughput applications – Up to 6,000 items per hour
Sweeper sorters consist of a modular unit installed above a conveyor belt that pushes items into outlets on the left and right of the belt. Its strength is sorting large quantities of small products, with the ability to accommodate nearly 200 sort destinations in a high-density configuration, having proven itself in post, parcel, e-commerce fulfillment and pharmaceutical operations. However, size does limit sweeper sorters, as the height of the module cannot accommodate larger boxes and totes.
Medium and higher throughput applications – Between 9,000 and 24,000 items per hour
Sliding shoe sorters use specially designed “shoes” to push a single stream of items off a carrying surface of interlocking slats onto a post-sort conveyor. They can handle a wide range of product sizes and packaging types, from large corrugate boxes to smaller, malleable polybags and bubble mailers. They offer exceptionally high throughput rates in single-sided configurations. Special high-density configurations are also available, delivering significant space savings and layout flexibility, but have some rate and packaging size limitations.
Highest throughput applications – 27,000 items per hour
Tilt-tray sorters use a series of trays mounted to carts running on a continuous loop conveyor. A divert mechanism tilts to release products to destination chutes, directing them to their sorting destinations. This continuous, flat carrying surface enables them to reliably handle virtually any product and packaging type, from pill bottles and polybags to bubble mailers and large boxes. Tilt-tray sorters are an ideal solution for high-throughput e-commerce order fulfillment operations with a large, diverse inventory. They can be configured with more than 1,500 sort destinations and offer the highest sort densities of all automated sortation systems. Tilt-tray sorters also allow for easy future expansion and operate at low noise levels, making them a good solution for operators who work within close proximity to the machine.
Cross-belt sorters use a series of belt conveyors that ride in a 90-degree orientation to direct the sorter’s flow. They can easily handle tight-radius curves, inclines and declines, making them a strong solution for operations with limited space or challenging layouts. Advances include Honeywell Intelligrated’s dynamic discharge compensation (DDC) technology that enables an increased level of discharge precision, resulting in near-perfect, 99.99 percent sortation accuracy.
Other things to consider:
Throughput isn’t the only factor to consider. Operations should also weigh the following when choosing the right sortation solution:
- Floor space requirements - Many operations are looking to add e-commerce focused solutions in existing buildings, and even in the back room of retail stores. Some technologies are designed to maximize the number of destinations in a very small footprint.
- Maintenance and operator skill levels – Daily operation and maintenance tasks can vary widely by technology and by equipment OEM. Consider how your personnel will interact with the equipment and how your current staff will be able to maintain the system.
- Future expansion – If there is a possibility for future expansion, this should be taken under consideration at the project outset. The ability of future expansion, in terms of rate or divert locations, can be limited by the technology or by the initial system design.
For more information, read the Honeywell Intelligrated white paper, Sorting out your sortation options.