Choose the Best Sortation System for Your Application
Whether you are in the process of implementing automated sortation in your warehouse or order fulfillment operation for the first time, or you are simply in the market to upgrade an aging system, it’s important to get things right.
There are many different types of sorters available in the market today. Each one is suited to handling different types of product and packaging, and to meeting different requirements in terms of throughput, speed, application, and integration with other technologies.
Free Guide: Choosing a Sortation System for Your DC
Are you having a hard time determining which variety of sorter is the best one for your operation? Below we outline some of the key factors you should be sure to consider before you make a decision.
Metrics That Will Influence Sorter Choice
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:
1. What is the material being handled?
Different sorters are better suited for handling different kinds of product and packaging. As such, the size, shape, and weight of your product will play a large role in narrowing down your sortation options, as will the product’s fragility and rigidity.
2. What are your throughput requirements?
Whatever your throughout requirements, there is almost certainly a sorter that can get you to your goals. But it’s worth noting that the quicker the sortation, and the higher the throughput, the more expensive the technology is likely to be. It’s for this reason that you need to understand your requirements so that you can select the technology that allows you to meet these needs while also fitting within your operational budget.
So ask yourself questions like:
- What is your production rate?
- How fast, in units/minute, do items need to be processed?
- What do your peak times look like, both on a daily, weekly, and seasonal level?
- Are there customer-driven peaks as a result of same day shipping that increase the actual processing rate required of your system?
- Has sortation traditionally been a bottleneck within your facility?
3. 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.
4. Do you have any space considerations?
And finally, it would be a mistake to overlook the importance of space in determining the best sortation option for your facility. Some sorters need more space than others, so this metric is something that will impact your final decision.
Ask yourself questions like:
- What is the total square footage of your operation?
- What is the available floor space?
- Are you making efficient use of the vertical space in your facility?
- Will the system be loop, or linear?
5. How flexible does the system need to be?
How confident are you that the product and packages your operation handles today are going to be the same product and packages that you handle five, ten, fifteen years down the road? While it’s understandably difficult to know exactly what your operation will look like in the future, it’s important to have at least some sort of picture, because this may impact the type of sorter that you implement in your facility.
Some sortation systems are best suited for handling a limited variety of products and packages. This might make them off-limits to a facility that requires significant flexibility. Meanwhile, other options are incredibly flexible and can be an excellent choice for operations undergoing (or expecting to undergo) an evolution in the future. AMR-based sortation, as just one example, offers incredible flexibility compared to some legacy systems.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Sorting Out Your Options
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.
A trusted systems integrator like Conveyco can help you determine your best options for sortation automation. If you have any questions, please reach out for a consultation.