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Implementing Automated Sortation in Existing Facilities

Sortation

Implementing Automated Sortation in Existing Facilities

This blog completes a series of three for DCs needing to expand sortation capacity to keep up with the growing demands of e-commerce. Previous blogs covered the market shifts driving demand for automated sortation and strategies for finding the right automation solution. More information is available in a new sortation capacity white paper, available here.

Many existing DC operations were designed to support traditional retail store distribution, so retrofitting them to accommodate today’s exploding e-commerce volumes requires additional sortation capacity. A frequent challenge faced by operators is how to make the best use of limited space while introducing technology and workflow adjustments that accommodate existing systems — all while limiting operational disruptions.

Unlike greenfield facilities, which have the freedom to make the best sortation decisions for current and anticipated requirements, existing solutions are often limited by current facility or process constraints. They typically don’t have the space to deploy systems with larger footprints such as loop sorters, or the time to deploy other solutions — such as bomb bay or cross-belt sorters — which could require shutdowns of six months, eight months, or even up to a year.

Fast upgrades for tight spaces

Operations with limited space can benefit from the minimal footprint of a line sorter, such as a sliding shoe or sweeper sorter. A dual-sided sliding shoe sorter supports divert destinations on either side to match the high chute density required by e-commerce fulfillment. A sweeper sorter is a relatively low-cost option to increase sortation capacity, with a fast implementation timeline that can take as little as two months.

These solutions can be combined with a secondary sortation system such as a put wall or a voice-directed system where operators move items to specific pallets following automated sorts.

Strategies for faster transitions

Getting a system online quickly depends on a variety of factors, some of which you can control and others where you have fewer options. These include:

  • Sortation vendor pipeline: Leading systems suppliers typically have a deeper manufacturing and engineering bench for capacity fluctuations.
  • System complexity: Custom engineering and integration take time, so less customization means faster deployment schedules.
  • Vendor consolidation: Working with a single-source provider, instead of multiple outside consultants and equipment vendors, offers significant speed advantages.

Squeezing everything in

Today’s sorter designs feature more compact construction of divert chutes, allowing more destinations to be integrated in a given amount of space. This is important for operations transitioning from diverts to specific dock doors to zone skipping sorts into bulk containers that are spaced together more closely.

Alternately, existing facilities may find opportunities to take advantage of existing infrastructures — such as conveyor lines — to add new sortation points. For example, instead of a single conveyor divert headed to a dock door, an operation could add motor-driven, roller-conveyor, right-angle transfers to transform a single sort point into a configuration with eight to 10 separate destinations to support zone-skipping strategies.

Complex challenges need an experienced perspective

Today’s e-commerce driven supply chains have little margin for error. The relentless pace of order fulfillment and intense competition pressures require DC operations to squeeze out as much sortation capacity as possible. Selecting a best-fit sortation solution requires considering the unique characteristics of both the operation and available sortation technologies.

To ensure the successful design and implementation of an innovative sortation system that meets your specific operational goals, partner with an experienced provider who has access to — and experience with — integrating a full lineup of sortation technologies.

For more information and strategies for helping your DC stay competitive with automated sortation, check out the sortation capacity white paper, available here.

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