How to Choose the Right Sortation System for Your Application
Deciding that you want to implement a new sortation system in your materials handling or order fulfillment operation (or upgrade an existing system) is a big decision, and one that can be a bit overwhelming. In addition to understanding the various pros and cons of different sorters and how your unique operation will impact the sorter that you choose, you also need to think about the particular application that your sorter needs to fulfill.
Important Metrics to Consider
Before you start worrying about different applications and how they’ll impact the sorter that you ultimately choose, it’s important to consider the different metrics that will drive the entire sortation design. These metrics will influence much of the decision-making process:
- What is the material to be handled? The size, shape, fragility, rigidity, and weight of your product will play a large role in determining what sortation system will best fit your needs.
- What is your production rate? How fast, in units per minute, do items need to be processed? Are there peak times of day or customer-driven peaks as a result of same day shipping that increase the actual processing rate required of your system?
- How many destinations are required? Once your items are sorted, where do they need to go? How many different destinations are required? Though some outbound shipping applications only need a handful of destinations, store distributions might have several hundred chutes branching off of a single sorter. This number will impact the layout of your sorter, so it pays to consider all possibilities.
- Do you have any space considerations? How large is your operation/how constrained is the sortation system going to be? Will it be a loop or a linear system? Some sorters need more space than others, so this metric is something that will impact your final decision.
How Application May Impact Sortation Decision
It makes sense to think that application will have an impact on the sorter that you choose. And it will: Depending on your application, certain sorters may be inappropriate for your system concept while others may be more ideal given some of the criteria listed above.
But the decision as to which to apply to a concept usually won’t be as black and white that we can say “X sorter is best for Y application.” As with everything else in materials handling and order fulfillment, the truth is a little more nuanced, and dependent on multiple variables that impact one another and the ultimate choice as to which sorter is the rightFit.
Here are some things to keep in mind when you are picking a sorter for different applications:
- Receiving: If you are selecting a sortation system for your receiving needs, you will need to know the number of inbound trailers that will need to be unloaded simultaneously and the number of destinations that will be required to sort out the inbound work for putaway or other processing.
- Packing: When selecting a sorter for your packing needs, you’ll need to be aware of the number of different types of stations required along the route. This will include both standard stations (repackaging, bagging, etc.) and extras like gift wrapping and value adding. You will also need to know the number of stores to be processed per wave or specifics about what type of unique packaging considerations exist.
- Shipping: When selecting a sorter for your shipping needs, you should know the number of pallet build locations required for your operation or the number of trailers that will need to be loaded simultaneously.
Planning for Tomorrow—Let’s Sort It Out
Any successful system implementation requires a serious amount of preparation; selecting a new sortation system is no different. In addition to understanding how certain metrics will drive the sorter that you ultimately choose, it is critical that you consider your needs tomorrow and not forget about scalability for the future.
Leaving expansion in a system for more destinations or to accommodate a growth in the business to the greatest extent practical is key in designing these systems. The goal is to design in a reasonable amount of growth while not overbuilding today and over-investing in idle capacity that goes unused for too long before it is needed. Your systems integrator can help you objectively review which sorters by which manufacturers make sense for your operation today and tomorrow.