High-Speed Sortation Meets E-Commerce Demands

Sliding shoe sortation

This year, online retail sales in the United States will reach $334 billion, roughly 10% of all domestic retail sales, according to Forrester Research. The analysts there go on to predict that over the next five years, e-commerce will continue to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10%. That translates into online sales of $480 billion by 2020.

That also translates into a lot more and smaller, one- and two-line orders than most retailers have historically handled. Gone are the days of the warehouse that solely replenished brick-and-mortar retail store shelves and rack displays. Omni-channel, or fulfillment of multiple kinds of orders (pallets routed to the retail store, cases to wholesale accounts and small parcel online orders shipped to individuals) from a single warehouse or distribution center (DC), is the new normal for today’s retailers.

Although an operation may be handling the same volume of stock keeping units (SKUs) as before, with the explosion of online shopping, they are likely moving smaller, lighter cartons at a higher throughput. Operations moving products around their facility on conveyor and more orders mean more congestion. In order to handle the uptick in volume, many are looking to enhance their existing conveyor installation with high-speed sortation.

Capable of routing items or parcels at speeds up to 700 feet-per-minute, sorters deliver a variety of operational benefits. Among them:

  • The ability to ship more product in a shorter amount of time, which helps online retailers meet the growing expectation that consumers have for same-day shipping.
  • An increase in order cutoff time, allowing more customer orders to be processed same-day and still meet outbound carrier shipping deadlines.

High-speed sortation conveyor systems come in a variety of forms, which means a thorough analysis of current operations and their projected growth rate is needed to help select the right solution for a given application. Considerations include the dimensional size and weight of the items, as well as the types of packaging to be handled.

The actions required of the system can also determine the types of sorter technology used in a given part of a system. Desired outcomes include:

  • Induction: The point at which a given item enters an area of the conveyor system.
  • Merge: A point where one or more branches of conveyed products meet flow into in a single, controlled stream.
  • Sortation: Deflection technologies that divert a product to its correct destination, such as stationary or movable arms, pop-up wheels, rollers, or chains.
  • Take-away: A type of conveyor that transports product away from the point of sortation.

High-Speed Sortation Technologies

Depending on the items being handled and the intended result of the sortation action, different high-speed sortation technologies might be employed. Some examples are:

  • Air-Assisted Sortation: Ideal for lightweight cartons, polybags or envelopes, air-assisted sortation uses small, focused nozzles of compressed air to gently propel a product in a specific direction.
  • Pop-Up Wheel Sortation: Deployed with 24v-DC powered roller conveyor, or belt conveyor, pop-up wheel sorters are air-operated. On cue, high-friction divert wheels rise between the rollers to gently divert product, typically at a 30-degree angle.
  • Sliding Shoe Sortation: Made up of closely spaced ‘shoes’ that slide at an angle across flattop aluminum slats, sliding shoe sorters gently push a product into the next lane or onto a take-away conveyor.
  • Narrow Belt Sortation: For transfer of items off either side of a conveyor at a right angle, narrow belt sorters are equipped with pop-up rollers that spin perpendicularly to the direction of belt travel to route a product on cue.

Want to learn more about sorter technology? Call viastore at 616.977.3950 to learn how adding high-speed sortation to your operation can help you keep pace with e-commerce order volumes.

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