In logistics and warehousing processes across industries like e–commerce, post-parcel, retail, and manufacturing the tasks of sorting, routing and segregating products and SKUs is an integral part of intralogistics operations. Sortation systems along with conveyors and automatic identification systems play a crucial role in facility operations to process large volumes and varieties of items such as cartons, cases, totes, bags, parcels, packets and even pallets.
Modern production and distribution settings require high accuracy and speed to optimise sortation functions while maximising or reducing workforce requirements, operational expenses and the cost of reverse logistics. Errors, damages and pilferages, and mis-sorts are also reduced if proper efficient systems are in place.
The daily necessity of this system in a facility also means meeting increasingly stringent service level agreements and striving for operational excellence in the face of higher order volumes and time constraints. To address these demands and optimise efficiency, automated technologies have emerged as a compelling solution to streamline material flow and improve productivity.
By leveraging advanced technological capabilities in the sorting processes of numerous operational functions like receiving, picking, packing, sortation, consolidation, and shipping, businesses can improve their performance, reduce operational costs, and meet the ever-growing expectations of today’s market.
Applications of Sortation Systems
There are various applications of sortation technologies in the logistics industry.
Receiving, Put-Away and Cross-Docking
In the receiving process, these technologies enable efficient return processing by sorting items for either restocking or putaway. They also facilitate put-away operations by removing cases from trailers and sorting cartons by SKU, enabling streamlined palletisation before storage. Additionally, they support cross-docking operations, ensuring the timely consolidation of just-in-time inventory for active orders.
During the picking process, sorters are instrumental in optimising productivity and reducing order cycle time. By routing cartons or totes to the appropriate zones, these technologies enhance split case or mixed case picking, allowing order fulfilment selectors to focus solely on orders within their designated zones.
Sorters also play a crucial role in the packing stage. They enable the consolidation of multiple tote orders at a single pack station, streamlining the packaging process and enabling shipment in the same carton. Furthermore, sorting technologies can route split case orders to specific packing tasks based on the required shipping container type, such as polybags, cartons, or gift wrapping.
Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Sortation for Shipping
In shipping applications, sorters provide flexibility and efficiency. They can categorise orders according to carrier/service methods like LTL or small packages. Sorters are instrumental in the primary level for initial segregation or even secondary sortation as per operational requirements. Moreover, sorting technologies enable the consolidation of full case picks, or consolidate multiple e–commerce orders having similar destinations or main orders. Sorters are also used for conveying split case picks into the same lane, allowing for palletisation together or direct loading onto trailers. Sorters also find applications in the staging process for routing and holding items as per material flow requirements.
Overall, sorting technologies offer invaluable support in order picking, sorting, staging, transportation, warehousing operations, streamlining processes, improving productivity, and enhancing overall efficiency in the logistics industry.
Benefits of Sortation Automation Systems
- Increase overall efficiency, throughput and productivity
- Eliminate errors, damages, pilferages and mis-sorts
- Provide seamless process flow integrating into various steps & functions
- Process high volumes and varieties of products while accommodating varying demand fluctuations & peaks
- Improve Accuracy
- Space optimisation
- Reduce labour costs and overall operating expenditure
- Faster order processing with lower cost/order
- Safe and ergonomic workflows and environment
Additional Functions of Sortation Automation Systems
- Regulating the movement of products between different functional areas and within them
- Effectively managing workflow processing to ensure efficient operations.
- Scanning barcodes to enable accurate tracking and accountability of products
- Seamlessly integrating with inventory storage and order picking sub-systems for smooth coordination
- Featuring a modular design that allows for easy reconfiguration to adapt to future needs
- Facilitating traffic management and load distribution to optimise the flow of goods throughout the facility
As there are multiple applications of sorting, different types of technologies are available in the market. LAC Logistics Automation being the UK’s leading systems integrator has a wide range of sortation automation solutions for every business need. LAC offers a diverse range of advanced sorting systems. Designed to optimise sorting processes and enhance operational efficiency in every function discussed above, these solutions cater to businesses of all sizes, from small-scale operations to large distribution centres.
Activated Roller Belt (ARB) sorters feature a series of independently controlled rollers that can be activated or deactivated as needed. This enables smooth and gentle sorting of items, making them ideal for fragile or irregularly shaped products.
Arm and Pusher Sorter
Arm and pusher sorters use mechanical arms or pushers to divert items off the main conveyor line. They offer flexibility and precision in sorting items based on size, weight, or other criteria, making them suitable for various applications.
Swivel Wheel Sorter
Swivel wheel sorters use rotating wheels to direct items to the appropriate destinations. They provide reliable and accurate sorting, handling high volumes of items with ease and efficiency.
FRAT (Fixed Right Angle Transfer)
FRAT systems enable seamless transfers of items at a fixed 90-degree angle. They are commonly used for diverting items onto perpendicular conveyor lines or into different processing areas, ensuring smooth flow and efficient sorting.
Flowsort systems optimise sorting by creating a continuous flow of items along the conveyor. They use advanced control algorithms and sensors to maintain a steady stream of items, maximising throughput and reducing congestion.
Split and Tilt Tray Sorter
Split and tilt tray sorters employ trays that can be split or tilted to divert items to the desired destination. This technology offers high accuracy and flexibility, accommodating a wide range of product sizes and shapes.
Cross Belt Sorter
Cross belt sorters use a belt system with small carriers to transport items to their designated chutes. With precise control and high-speed capabilities, they are capable of handling large volumes of items with excellent accuracy.
Autonomous Mobile Robots
These robots navigate autonomously within a facility, carrying items to their designated locations for sorting. With advanced sensors and mapping capabilities, they adapt to changing environments, providing flexible and scalable sorting solutions while reducing manual labour requirements.
The infographic below illustrates the various types of sorters and their specifications along with throughputs for relevant operational application requirements.