Narrow Belt Sorter: Rate, Throughput & Use Case
When it comes to automated sortation in a warehouse or order fulfillment setting, there are seemingly countless options available for your operation to leverage.
Which sorter is right for you will depend on the unique needs of your business, including your throughput requirements and the type of product or packaging that the machine will be conveying. For operations that require flexible sortation and relatively high throughput rates, the narrow belt sorter can be an excellent solution.
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Below, we explore the narrow belt sorter by taking a look at how it works and the different applications it can be leveraged for within your facility.
What is a Narrow Belt Sorter?
A narrow belt sorter is a sortation system that conveys product upon a series of narrow, 2-inch wide belts or strips. Between each of these belts is a gap. Depending on the exact model of sorter that your operation uses, between these belts you will find either a series of high-friction rollers or fixed-angle wheels. These sorters are also sometimes known as NBS (short for ‘narrow belt sorter) or strip belt sorters.
When the product reaches the appropriate divert lane, the rollers or wheels will pop up and activate in order to divert the product where it needs to go.
Diverts are typically installed at either 30 degrees or 90 degrees. The 30-degree divert will leverage the fixed-angle pop-up wheel mentioned above, while the 90-degree divert will leverage high-friction rollers. Which of these options makes the most sense for your operation will depend on your throughput requirements and available floor space. While the 30-degree divert option typically offers more throughput, the 90-degree option will allow for more densely packed diverts. 45-degree divert options are also available but are less common.
Narrow belt sorters can handle a variety of packages and product, ranging from cases, totes, and boxes to polybags. That being said, they are not typically well-suited for handling very small cartons less than 6-inches in size. Additionally, product that is either very light, very heavy (in excess of 70-80 pounds), or unevenly weighted may not be well-suited for the sorter. Pieces may be less well suited, depending on their physical characteristics. Additionally, the sorter may be less than optimal handling product with poor bottoms (for example, those that are soft/spongy) which the pop-up rollers or wheels may have difficulty making contact with.
Some of the common applications that the narrow belt sorter can be used for within your operation include sorting batch picked totes into put cells, sorting into packing stations, and wave-based sortation. The system can also be used to feed tappers and carton closing stations, as well as gaylords. It is even possible to leverage as a tote or carton buffering system.
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Benefits of the Narrow Belt Sorter
The narrow belt sorter truly is one of the most flexible sortation options on the market today, capable of being easily reconfigured in order to suit your operation’s evolving needs. In addition to this flexibility, the sorter brings a number of other benefits, including:
- High throughput rates: Reliable, accurate 65 tote per minute (TPM) sortation
- Speed: Narrow belt sorters carry products at speeds up to 300 feet per minute
- Quiet: The belt-based design of the NBS is extremely quiet compared to many other sorters, allowing you to reduce the noise in your facility
- Efficiency: Energy usage is 60% less than conventional sorters
- Dependability: Belt mistracking is eliminated with the total belt retention system
- Simple configuration: Allows for easy maintenance
With this in mind, the narrow belt sorter can be leveraged in virtually any industry or operation. They are especially well-suited for operations with medium to high throughput requirements that handle cases, totes, and boxes.
For operations which need throughputs beyond the range possible for the narrow belt sorter, other options are available. These include the sliding shoe sorter (which also features a positive divert), the tilt tray, and the crossbelt. Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) may also be a perfect solution for your needs due to their flexibility, scalability, reduced floor space requirements, and cost. Such AMR solutions include the TiltSort-Bot, Hi-Tilt-Bot, and others.
Recent Advancements in the Narrow Belt Sorter
While the narrow belt sorter is often considered to be a rather mature sortation option, that doesn’t mean that the technology is no longer being improved upon.
One fairly recent advancement was the development of the NBS-Wave, which relies on multiple rows of individual wheels which cascade (or wave) one by one in order to divert product. This cascade reduces the amount of gap required between each parcel and increases your overall throughput.
Deciding Your Best Path Forward
Clearly, the narrow belt sorter is an excellent piece of sortation technology, and one that can help the right operation realize tremendous benefits. But is it the best piece of technology for your specific needs? The only way to know for sure is to understand your throughput requirements, seasonality, and the product that your operation handles. Depending on your answers to these questions, another variety of sorter or even potentially a fleet of AMRs could be the better option for your operation.
Here at Conveyco, we pride ourselves on our RightFIT methodology, which ensures that we only recommend the technology we believe will truly be best for our clients. We are 100% manufacturer and technology agnostic, guided only by a mission to help your operation improve. Reach out today to book a free consultation with one of our expert systems integrators who can help you understand your sortation options.