Dollar to Dollar: Factors that Impact Cost of Popular Sortation Systems
It’s no secret that implementing a new sortation system in your warehouse or distribution center can be costly: It’s a big investment, but one that offers tremendous ROI by increasing the efficiency of your order fulfillment or manufacturing operation.
Because cost is such an important consideration, it’s important that you know all of the factors that can impact the final cost of your new system, especially if you have a tight budget or need to request funds for the project. To help you determine where on the cost spectrum your new sorter is going to fall, here are four factors that can impact the cost of your system.
1. Length/Size of System
The length or size of your new sortation system will impact final costs in a number of ways. Longer systems obviously require more beds and material to construct than shorter systems, which drives up cost. They can also take more time and effort to implement, which drives up the labor cost of the project. There is no wonder that sortation equipment has the highest per foot cost of any other type of conveyance.
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In addition to these obvious correlations, longer systems may require multiple drives to keep product moving from Point A to Point B (this will depend on both the length of the system and the the divert centers for the specific type of sorters). Though a sorter’s length will often be driven by your building’s layout/footprint and the number of physical diverts required in the system, a skilled systems integrator will be able to optimize your system’s layout and ensure the application is the best value for your operation..
2. Type of Sorter
Ultimately, the type of sorter that you select for your warehouse or DC is also going to have a direct impact on the cost of your project.
- Pop-up Wheel: This popular sorter consists of wheels or rollers embedded in a belt conveyor which “pop up” to lift or transfer items at an angle to another downstream conveyor. This type of sorter has a low to medium sorting rate, which offers the lowest level of investment among sortation technology.
- Sliding Shoe (and other flat-top sorters): Sliding Shoe Sorters consist of a “shoe” that is attached to the conveyor surface that positively diverts items onto an aftersort conveyor. This type of sortation system can be a solid (or slat) type surface which can allow bags or extremely small cartons to be sorted. Because of the robustness and rate this machine can provide it is significantly more costly than popup wheel and other lower rate alternatives.
- Tilt-tray and Cross-belt (and other loop sorters): A Tilt-tray sorter consists of trays mounted to carts which run on a continuous-loop conveyor that tilt (or dump) to divert product to the required destination. Cross-belt sorters consist of conveyor surface which can convey product off of the carrier at the required divert point either by motorized belt conveyors or a fraction plate that will act in the same fashion). Tilt-tray and Cross-belt sorters offer the highest sorting rate when compared to other sortation systems and are capable of handling the most diverse range of product types. These capabilities make these technologies the most expensive type of sortation systems.
3. Number and Type of Diverts/Destinations
Sortation systems can vary pretty significantly based on the number and type of diverts that are required for the operation.
For example, your DC may require the capability to sort directly onto a truck through the use of extendable conveyors which extend into 53’ trailers and eliminate the need for walking while loading. Other sortation systems may require an assembly chute. For example, on a tilt tray system in a packing operation, a chute allows for the collection and accumulation of units until such time the order is complete and ready to be packed into a carton for shipment.
A system with a greater number and variety of diverts will cost more because it requires more time, effort, and materials to implement than a system with fewer and less-varied diverts.
4. Required System Throughput
Your warehouse of DC’s required throughput will depend largely on the circumstances of your operation. The rate of sortation required will impact the cost of your system, with high rate systems (400–500 pieces per minute) necessarily costing more that low rate systems (fewer than 50 cartons/items per minute).
Systems with higher handling rates require specialty induction systems in order to optimize the gap between parcels as they enter the sorter, and to minimize the gap (or air) in an order, which consumes capacity.
Know What to Expect
Budgeting for any large project is always easier when you know what will impact the final costs. When it comes to implementing a new sortation system for your Distribution Center, everything from the length/size of the system, to the type of sorter applied, to the quantity and types of diverts, to required throughput will have an impact on the ultimate cost of your new system.