What is automated sortation in a warehouse?
Today’s retail consumers are now purchasing higher proportions online than ever before. The direct to consumer (D2C) numbers jumped during the pandemic lockdowns to over 27%, up from less than 20% pre-pandemic. The most recent figures show a slight drop off to 26.6% of total retail sales (ref: Office of National Statistics). These figures exclude any business to business (B2B) sales.
As noted in a previous Axiom blog, the average warehouse size has grown to 340,000 sq. ft., and despite the end of pandemic restrictions and the consumer spending pressure, the demand for large warehousing continues to increase 1.9% month on month. Availability, meanwhile, has dropped 22.4% year on year (ref: Retail Gazette).
With increasing costs across the board afflicting all companies, and restrictions in the availability of labour and space resources, the need to operate efficiently in all areas of warehousing, order fulfilment and delivery is vital. And with shorter and shorter delivery expectations adding to these pressures, automation is essential.
Automation Is an effective option to counteract these mounting pressures. By automating the manual handling throughout the warehousing process, the number of unproductive touch points and movements are minimised.
Sorting – key to an efficient warehouse
Failing to plan for this sea change in retail behaviour is planning to fail in a potentially spectacular fashion. Automating the sorting process is a versatile method of increasing throughput, processing speeds and accuracy so that delivery deadlines can be met. It also enables companies to rely less on manual labour; better coping with the peaks and troughs associated with seasonal demand when it may well be difficult to employ sufficient staff to cope.
Efficient sorting of packages throughout the warehouse reduces non-value-added movements saving both time and money and is a vital step to a smooth running and profitable warehouse.
Sorting – reduced delivery costs
Every time a package is handled, a cost is added. This cost could be measured in money, time, space or an environmental cost of multiple journeys.
For packages being despatched, eventually these will require sortation into the final mile delivery routes. If you can sort at first stage to this final route, the number of journeys and times a package is handled could be reduced with ongoing savings.
Other sortation schemes can lead to shipping savings. Does your preferred courier charge premiums on weight, volume, or overall size bands? Could certain products be shipped more cost effectively if removed from the general stream? All these criteria can be selected during automated sortation.
Sorting – customer satisfaction
As a package enters an automated sorter, the label is scanned and the read information checked against the provided data. On an outbound sort, this can act as a final quality check:
- Is the label code machine readable?
- Could indicate a printer failure.
- Does the destination address match the order record?
- Does the package contain prohibited items for shipping?
- Does the courier require a confirmed shipping list?
- Is a photographic record of the shipment required?
All these features can easily be included with the automated solution, adding additional business protection.
Sortation to achieve your throughput target
Later in this blog we will look at the different automated sorter technologies available. The optimum technical solution depends on a number of factors. These can include:
- Size range & weights of products to be sorted.
- The number of distinct types of packaging to be sorted; bag, box, large letter,
tote box, regular or irregular shape etc.
- Relative stability of the packages.
- Number of destinations to sort to.
- The throughput required.
- Space available within the warehouse.
- How gently they need to be handled & final product presentation to the user
Selecting the best automated sortation to achieve your objectives requires considerable research. It is therefore wise to partner with a well-respected and experienced supplier to help you make the right decision. They will thoroughly evaluate your requirements so that they can design and manufacture the most suitable system for your facility.
They will also give you the opportunity to visit other comparable facilities which have recently installed a similar sortation system. This will allow you to see the company’s sorter in action and give you a feel for the working relationships that the company achieves with its customers.
Guide to automated sortation equipment
There is a range of sorter technologies which have been designed to serve different applications. They vary from a simple pusher sorter with one or two diverts to a complex system that can process up to 10,000 items per hour to one hundred or more of destinations.
Sorting types – sliding shoe sorter
Axiom GB is the only company to manufacture a sliding shoe sorter here in the UK. Its powerful MSS sorter is ideal for high-speed sorting of diverse products at more than 10,000 items per hour. This sorter can process parcels, totes, cartons, books, CDs/DVDs, bagged items, and Jiffy bags.
Combining high speed with gentle sorting, the sorter automatically allocates the right number of shoes to divert each individual product. Manufactured in single- or double-sided formats, it has a compact footprint and is economical in operation, especially as no compressed air is required for the sortation process.
The Axiom design offers a number of key benefits such as a small slat pitch giving a shorter build length for a given number of diverts, and servo gate switching for fast, positive shoe diversion.
Throughput: Up to 10,000 items per hour
Max product size: 1500mm long x 800mm wide x 800mm high
Max product weight: 30kg
Sorting types – swivel wheel sorter (SWS)
This is a common technology used for sortation, the Axiom swivel wheel sorter is a highly flexible design that is ideal for the medium to high throughput of parcels, cartons, packets or bagged products. It is really suited to ‘occasional sorting’ where there is a requirement to sort at high speed in one or two places between conveyor runs, as well as high density.
Each row of rollers can move independently from the centre position either left or right without the need for the rollers to lift. Producing a smooth constant drive between product and roller, this innovative design reduces the pressure on both product and equipment as the product is gently steered into the destination.
Throughput: Up to 5,000 items per hour
Max product size: 1500mm long x 800mm wide x 800mm high
Max product weight: 50kg
Sorting types – pop up roller (PUR)
This technology excels for smaller uniform stye flat bottomed packages, for example books, media, and uniform boxes such as health products. Ideally the packages have a low and even centre of gravity. The pop-up roller sorter can give a high density of chutes with a small build length, even for 40-100 sort destinations.
The operation has rubberised driven rollers that lift, either pneumatically or electrically, momentarily applying a perpendicular drive to the package in the transportation direction, diverting off the conveyor. The aim of the design is to have a minimal lift distance and good package contact to give a positive diversion.
Throughput: Up to 4,000 items per hour
Max product size: 350mm long x 250mm wide x 100mm high
Max product weight: 1kg
Sorting types – automatic pusher sorters
The automated pusher sorter is the most basic of the technologies available to select and divert a package. The technology can be part of a bespoke system or a retrofit over an existing conveyor system. The range of packages that can be sorted and the operation of the system is more limited compared with the other technologies discussed, but for a correctly specified system it can be a reliable and cost-effective solution.
Based on the project requirements the style and drive method will be determined.
- Single or double-sided operation.
- Installation space availability.
- Speed and accuracy of operation.
- Package size and weight to be diverted.
Due to a clearance required between the pusher blade and the conveyor to allow unhindered operation, there is a minimum height of product that can be run through this style of system. The drive can be pneumatic for the most basic operations, through electric drives and servo control. For limited space, an overhead pusher may be most appropriate, these have the advantage of being capable of double-sided operation. Box style pusher sorters are ideal to retrofit over an existing conveyor and can be supplied fully enclosed for safety considerations.
Throughput: Dependent on the item to be sorted.
Light-weight Items (DVD / CD / Book) up to 3600 / hour
Heavier / more delicate items 600-1200 / hour
Max product size: 800mm long x 500mm wide x 800mm high
Max product weight: 30kg
How much does a sorter cost?
The investment required to purchase a sorter will vary considerably depending on a number of factors which determine the technology best suited to your particular operation. Important matters include the type, size and weight of product to be processed, the number of destinations to be sorted to and the expected throughput.
At the lower investment range are the sorters which use basic technology to divert a package, for example the automated pusher sorter which can sort up to 3,600 lightweight items per hour. At the higher investment range are the high speed sorters, for example the sliding shoe sorter which can achieve a throughput of up to 10,000 items an hour to many different destinations.
To find out exact costings it is necessary to give your chosen supplier an accurate briefing of your requirement. Providing you have chosen your supplier wisely, they will also be able to calculate the ROI of your particular sorter.
Sorting for better customer service and increased profits
Fast and accurate turnaround of products through a warehouse are the keys to a successful business. An automated sortation system can make a real difference. The main immediate benefits of sortation in a warehouse or fulfilment centre are improved throughput and accuracy resulting in better customer service.
Any automation solution should offer a step change in efficiencies allowing greater capacity at a lower unit cost. Partnering with the right company that specialises in the automation sector will not only give you all the answers you need to make the right decisions, but it will also ensure that all your unique requirements are met, if not exceeded.
Find out more about how automated sortation can help your business achieve its goals by contacting Julian Tarratt at Axiom GB on 01827 61212.