Tilt Tray Sorters: Use Case, Cost, and Other Considerations
Modern order fulfillment would not be able to exist without the plethora of automation technologies that allow warehouses and distribution centers to process, package, and ship orders as quickly and efficiently as possible.
One of the most important categories of order fulfillment technology is sortation technology. What years ago was a largely manual process has become almost exclusively automated, as an explosion of different types of sorters have entered the market.
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While not exactly a “brand new” piece of technology, the tilt tray sorters perform quickly and efficiently for the right application.
The new generation of tilt tray sortation systems provide models that are manufactured in components rather than custom manufacturing. These new models allow tilt tray sortation systems to have:
- Significantly lower costs
- Faster delivery times
- Easier installation and commissioning
- More reliable system performance
- Less costly maintenance
Below, we take a look at the tilt tray sorter, including its applications, its costs factors, and the operations that it is best suited for. We also discuss the new wave of AMR-based tilt tray bots that are entering the market and revolutionizing the way that businesses should think about sortation.
What is a tilt tray sorter?
A tilt tray sorter is a sorter that quite literally consists of trays that sit atop carts, which themselves are conveyed by the drive mechanism. The trays carry product or orders, typically up to a maximum weight of around 10 pounds. When a tray gets to the correct location, it will tilt in order to divert the item that it is carrying down a chute for further processing.
Depending on the model, most tilt tray sorters are capable of sorting approximately 8,000 to 15,000 units per hour.
While all tilt tray sorters work roughly the same, there are a number of different models available. The widest variety tends to be the actual tray component. Some trays are flat, and better suited for parcels, boxes, envelopes, or other flat packages. Other trays are more like bowls or Vs, allowing them to convey a wider variety of products, such as cans, balls or cylinders which might roll off of a flat tray.
Tilt trays often come as either single- or double-tilt varieties. Single-tilt will tilt in just one direction (either right or left) while double tilt can tilt in both directions.
Likewise, tilt tray sorters are available in two major configurations, loop or linear. Loop configured tilt tray systems allow multiple induction locations and run in a circular shape. This is great for a large quantity of chutes and induction stations.
The second configuration is linear. A tilt tray configured in a linear fashion is usually a straight line with the sortation taking place on the top level and the bottom is used to return. Sortation chutes can run on either side.
Note: Tilt tray sorters are often discussed alongside crossbelt sorters due to certain similarities that they share. It is important to recognize, however, that these are different technologies, each better suited for different needs.
Tilt Tray Applications
Tilt tray sorters are typically only used for sequencing and sorting. That being said, the technology can perform a number of applications as a sorter.
1. Order Fulfillment
Tilt trays often form a central piece of the order picking strategy in the operations in which they are employed. Pickers often work according to a batch picking strategy, picking a large quantity of items (often 200-300) into buckets. These are then dumped onto a bulk conveying sorter which runs through the center of the picking area before dumping into a chute. At the bottom of the chute, operators place one item in each tray on the tilt tray sorter, which then diverts the items as necessary.
As above, tilt tray sorters can be employed specifically to help sort packages and orders for delivery.
3. Dual Purposes
Because tilt tray sorters run linear or in a loop, it is not uncommon to use each half of the loop for different purposes. For example, you might use one half of the loop to sort units into orders, while using the other half to sort cartons or packages to shipping.
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While a tilt tray sorter can be more of an investment than other sorters, it is certainly a worthwhile investment for the right operation. This is why Conveyco uses its RightFIT seven step methodology to analyze your data, business case, alternative solutions and most importantly return on investment (ROI).
Tilt trays provide some of the highest sorting rates on the market today, making them an ideal choice for operations that have high throughput needs. They are also incredibly versatile, making them well-suited for handling a wide variety of products.
Who Should (and Shouldn’t) Use a Tilt Tray Sorter
A tilt tray sorter can be an excellent option for operations that:
- Require a throughput of 8,000 to 15,000 units per hour
- Handle products up to a maximum weight of approximately 10 pounds
- Have product which cannot be conveyed on a traditional conveyor, such as a shoe sorter
- Requires a high number of diverts
Often, ecommerce operations that process a high volume of small orders and smaller cube items will have the greatest success with tilt tray sorters.
That being said, the technology is not particularly well suited for handling fragile items, items over 10 pounds, or garments on hangers, which can get damaged during descent down the chute. Additionally, operations which do not require such high volumes may realize just as much success from less expensive alternatives.
The Next Evolution: Robotic AMR-Based Tilt Tray Sorters
When we think about the next generation of sortation technology, much of the discussion tends to be focused around autonomous mobile robots (AMRs). This is because AMR-based sorters offer many benefits:
- They are flexible: A traditional sorter requires a substantial amount of floor space within a facility. And as the sorter will likely remain in the same place for years or more, it’s crucial to get the planning done right before installation. AMR-based sortation, on the other hand, does not require the same level of floor space. The systems are also much easier to reconfigure if and when necessary.
- They offer redundancy: Traditional sorters are a critical piece of the order fulfillment process in their facilities. This means that if the system ever goes down or requires unplanned maintenance, it can cause significant issues as the entire facility grinds to a halt. Because each AMR operates independently, they offer a built in redundancy which minimizes the risks of unplanned downtime.
- They are scalable: When you purchase any sorter, you aren’t just purchasing for your business needs today; you’re purchasing a system that will be able to meet your future needs. Often, this means that you are purchasing capacity which you won’t use for five or even 10 years down the line. With an AMR-based system, it is possible to purchase only the capacity that you need today, and then scale the system as your needs change. This allows you to put your capital to better use elsewhere instead of locking it inside of capacity that you can’t use.
- They are more affordable: While the precise costs will all depend on the specifics of your operation, an AMR-based sortation system tends to be less expensive than its traditional counterpart.
And finally, AMR-based sorters come in the same broad variety as traditional sorters. This includes tilt tray bots. Here at Conveyco, for example, we offer two models of tilt tray AMRs: the TiltSort-Bot and Hi-Tilt-Bot. Both AMRs are available with tilt tray or crossbelt options. Both models are ideally suited for item and parcel sortation, order fulfillment, high speed pickwall applications, ecommerce orders, and store replenishment, both models are ideally suited for sorting items and orders into cartons, totes, pallets, or gaylords.
Choosing the Right Sorter for Your Operation
There’s no denying that there are many options available today for order fulfillment operations looking to automate their sortation processes. If you are considering a tilt tray sorter, different type of sorter, or even a cutting-edge AMR-based system, it’s important that you choose the technology that will best address your needs. A trusted systems integrator can help you evaluate all of your options and come to the decision that is right for you.