Polybags: Changing up Automated Sortation Systems

Polybags: Changing up Automated Sortation Systems

The increased use of polybags and bubble mailers has had a tremendous impact on automated sortation systems. Ever since UPS and FedEx Ground changed to a dimensional weight-based pricing method in 2015, shipping companies have equated the volume of space consumed on a delivery truck to the shipping cost, making shipping smaller items more advantageous to their bottom line. This decision created a ripple effect — one that has most likely landed squarely on your fulfillment center (FC) floor.

Dimensional pricing brings new challenges

In response to an increased cost for shipping small items, most e-commerce retailers made the transition from rigid boxes and cartons to smaller and pliable packaging such as bubble mailers and polybags. These packaging types created a challenge for automated sortation systems.

Sortation conveyor systems are important components of any warehouse automated system. Prior to the rise of e-commerce and dimensional pricing requirements, conveyor systems were mainly used for boxes and cartons. These containers move quite easily on a conveyor system, making it simple to find and scan their barcodes, and easily track an item through a facility’s system.

Today, distribution centers are moving single items in polybags from their facilities to their customers’ front doors, as opposed to large boxes containing many items to retail stores. But polybags are more likely to shift while in transit on a sortation conveyor, making it harder to find and scan barcodes.

Even with these packaging changes, FCs are still expected to move products through their systems quickly and accurately to meet consumer expectations. To accommodate this evolution, new automated sortation systems have been designed and modified to handle the flow of single-item polybags. 

Three key sortation conveyor considerations

So, when it comes time to make automated warehouse equipment decisions, how do you choose a sortation conveyor that addresses these emerging challenges? The following are three key considerations to help you maximize your investment.

  1. Product mix and packaging

    What’s moving through your facility today? Is it polybags? Cartons and boxes still? If it’s polybags, you may want to consider the addition of a vision element to your sortation conveyor systems to find and scan barcodes. Some systems include a six-sided scanner for locating barcodes. Many facilities have even automated the polybag labeling process to save labor and standardize where the labels are placed on the bags.
  2. Peak seasons 

    This doesn’t just mean knowing what your peak seasons are; it refers to how often you’re in a peak season and how long they last. Many e-commerce companies have frequent peak season challenges. They go from back to school directly into the holidays and then into the January-February return season. If that’s the case for your business, you can benefit from more flexible automated sortation system designs to accommodate the dynamic throughput demands throughout the year.
  3. 80/20

    Another consideration when selecting an automated sortation system is the 80/20 rule. That is, choose equipment that is capable of transporting or sorting 80 percent of the products you need to get out the door or through a return system. This is especially important if you can only invest in one or two pieces of equipment.

To learn more about making an automated warehouse equipment investment decision, download our Sorting out Your Sortation Options white paper.

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