Sorter Audit: What it is and When You Need One
In most order fulfillment operations, warehouses, or distribution centers, the sorter is one of the single most important pieces of equipment. It keeps everything running, ensuring materials, product, and orders get where they need to go efficiently and without error.
The irony in this scenario is the fact that, when everything is working the way that it was designed to work, it’s easy to overlook just how important your sortation system is to the success of your operation. But when things begin to go wrong, the importance of your sorter comes into clarity at lightning speed.
If your sorter isn’t performing like it used to, it might be time to audit your system.
Clearly, such an important component of your operation should be regularly evaluated and audited to identify areas of concern that should be addressed. Doing so will allow you to keep your system running at peak capacity and performance, and can help you spot seemingly small issues before they spiral into operations-halting catastrophes that take your system offline for extended periods of But when is a sorter audit recommended, and what exactly does it entail?
When to Audit Your Sorter
When it comes to auditing your sorter—or any of your systems—you should always follow the maintenance schedule and guidance provided by the manufacturer of the system. If they prescribe that you conduct an audit every 5 years, that is when you should conduct an audit. Each manufacturer has years of experience dealing with issues related to their own machines, and data about when certain components tend to fail, etc. Leverage that information by following their maintenance recommendations as closely as possible.
Otherwise, you might want to consider auditing your sorter if you answer “yes” to any of the questions below:
- Has preventative maintenance been neglected? An audit can help you identify damage and wear and tear that should be prioritized to keep your system running smoothly.
- Are you experiencing increased sorter downtime? This might point to an issue that needs to be resolved.
- Do you find yourself needing to replace wear components on your sorter (chain, sprockets, tubes, etc.) more frequently than in the past? This may indicate that something about the way your system is working has changed.
- Do you find yourself dealing with more errors? This could point to there being something wrong in needs of being corrected.
- Is your system more than 10 years old? If so, conducting an audit should be a top priority. By year ten, your sorter is likely to have developed a number of wear-related issues that should be corrected (especially true if preventative maintenance has been neglected). Additionally, over the course of ten years, it is likely that your operation has undergone a number of changes, from changes in order size and profile to changes in the number of shifts worked, and all of these impact the performance of your sorter.
Once you’ve conducted your first audit and know the baseline health of your system, we would typically recommend that an audit be conducted at least once every 12 months.
What to Expect During a Sorter Audit
A Sorter Audit is an assessment of the sorter’s condition and its various components. As such, your system should be audited and assessed while it is running so that all moving pieces can be observed in action. Each component is evaluated to determine if it is performing correctly and if not, recommendations will be made about corrective action that is required for a proper repair or replacement.
Often, an operation will conduct an audit and any subsequent maintenance at the same time. If this is the plan, it is important that the operation has all of the necessary spare parts to get the system back online as quickly as possible. For example, when we conduct audits for our clients, we gather the original sorter drawing and bill of materials for the specific sorter to be audited, ensuring that the correct parts in need of replacement will be procured and installed.
While the exact components that will be audited will depend on the specific system, some of those most commonly reviewed include:
- Chain stretch, skew and tension
- Condition of carrier tubes and pushers “Shoes”
- Guide alignment
- UHMW and novex wear
- Chain guide and pin guide wear
- Overall condition of switch components and switch alignment
- Sprocket wear
- Air pressure
- Check reducer for leaks and noise levels
- Overall sorter cleanliness
- Check condition of drive belts
- Observe cases being sorted and possible issues
Additionally, audits will typically also determine whether or not the sorter could benefit from receiving an upgrade, such as a new carrier flight assembly, new HD switches, or new Intellisort DCMs. Conversely, an audit might sometimes reveal an issue or set of issues that make a full sorter rebuild necessary and recommended.
Necessary, and Critical
Regularly auditing and maintaining your sorters (and other systems) through preventative maintenance is necessary to keeping your systems online and productive, increasing the ROI of your equipment and boosting your bottom line. If you do not have an on-staff specialist to conduct the audit of your systems, a trusted systems integrator can help.