Four Solutions to Your Parcel Sortation and Distribution Problem
Parcel sortation is a demanding, yet integral part of any fulfillment and order processing center. As such, any inefficiencies in the process will lead to wasted time and effort, both of which hurt your bottom line by eating into your profit margins.
Factors Helping to Make Parcel Sortation the Norm
It used to be that parcel sortation and distribution was handled entirely by workers, who would walk lines to pick orders. This may have taken the form of piece picking (one worker picking an entire order), zone picking (one worker picking only the items from a certain section, or zone), or wave picking (one or multiple workers picking items for multiple orders at one time). Though this worked for years, it is an inefficient way of processing orders for a couple of reasons.
Free Guide: Choosing a Sortation System for Your DC
The first is that it makes the operation heavily dependent on human labor, which is expensive. And if labor is in short supply during peak seasons, an operation may be limited in its ability to meet customer demand.
The second is that manual processing increases the likelihood of errors and shipping delays, making it more challenging to keep customers satisfied, happy, and returning for future orders.
For all of these reasons, most fulfillment and order processing operations have been making the move to sortation and automation. Though implementing a new system involves an upfront investment of capital, over time it leads to reduced labor costs and an increase in productivity and accuracy that all help make your operation more profitable.
Parcel Supply Chain Trends
In recent years, there have been a number of trends driving the adoption of automated processing and sortation technologies to handle parcel sortation, beyond the need to reduce labor costs. Much of these trends directly reflect changing purchasing patterns:
- Internet buying continues to grow exponentially (with about half of all internet sales in the US coming from Amazon).
- Consumers increasingly want rapid or same day shipping.
- Free shipping is a common incentive to sell product.
- Large items are increasingly bought online, and may need to be delivered by trailer instead of van.
- Home delivery increasingly includes perishables such as groceries, home health care products, pharmaceuticals, and more, requiring special handling and packaging.
- Orders are growing smaller, but more frequent.
- Smaller packaging can create challenges in the sortation process.
In addition to these consumer-focused trends, there are economic factors driving the adoption of a more streamlined and automated parcel sortation system:
- Business-to-consumer continues to grow for ecommerce companies.
- Customers demand and expect next and same day delivery.
- Added security is needed/expected for home delivery, especially of goods such as pharmaceuticals.
- Quality labor is expensive and can be challenging to find, especially during peak seasons.
- Package types and sizes are increasingly different.
Parcel Sortation Solutions at Your Disposal
If you are considering implementing a sortation system to help with your parcel sortation and distribution needs, there are many options available for you to choose from. Which one is right for you will depend on a number of factors, including your operation’s peak rate, the variety of products that the system will handle, and the floorspace available to house the system.
If your operation requires a sorter with high volume capabilities, the following options can help you meet your goals:
Sliding Shoe Sorter: 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 is fed by a single stream of products merged from multiple areas of a building upstream.
Sliding Shoe sorters can handle a high peak rate (anywhere from 20 products per minute to hundreds of products per minute, depending on product size and weight). Because of the mechanics of the system and its positive divert, a wide range of materials can be handled.
Tilt-tray Sorter: Tilt-tray sorters consist of trays mounted to carts which run on a continuous-loop conveyor. These trays “tilt” and transfer products into a chute when it has reached its sorting destination. Items are inducted either manually or automatically onto the trays via induction stations at multiple locations throughout the loop.
Tilt-tray sorters offer some of the highest sorting rates when compared to other sortation systems. They are also capable of handling the most diverse range of product types, making them ideal for operations which handle many types of product. They are one of the more expensive systems available.
Cross-belt Sorter: Cross-belt sorters consist of motorized belt conveyors mounted to carts running on a continuous loop. Like tilt-trays, cross-belt sorters transfer items into a chute once it reaches its sorting destination.
Also like tilt-tray sorters, cross-belt sorters offer some of the highest sorting rates when compared to other sortation systems and can handle a wide variety of product types, making them ideal for facilities handling a wide range of items. They are one of the more expensive systems available.
Split-tray (Bombay) Sorter: Split-tray sorters, also called Bombay sorters, are ideal for high-speed automated sortation of small lightweight items such as bagged garments, jewelry, pharmaceuticals, CDs, mail, books, and other parcels that are too small and light to be handled by a typical conveyor system.
Unlike the tilt-tray and cross-belt sorters which utilize tilting carts to operate, an item on a Bombay Sorter fall through a trapdoor to arrive at its sorted location, hence the name. The items can be sorted into a chute for further processing or dropped directly into a carton or tote ready to ship to its customer.
Parceling It All Up
Though there are many options available to your fulfillment and order processing center when it comes to parcel sortation and distribution, finding the solution that is a right fit for your goals can be a challenge.
A systems integrator can help you determine the most appropriate parcel sortation system for your needs, helping you increase profitability, reduce costly shipping errors, and increase overall productivity in today’s highly competitive global market.