Are you in the process of upgrading ageing sortation equipment in your quest for an Industry 4.0 factory? Have you established a recycling centre in your municipal area and are shopping around for a brand new sorting system?
Whatever the reason you might be seeking to install a new sortation system (or part of a system), it’s not a decision to rush into. These systems—large or small—come with hefty price tags, and you want to ensure you get the best ROI possible. Every factory or warehouse has different needs, and you have to compare those needs to the features of the sortation equipment available.
Factors like sorter type, application, products, destination, throughput, space, and your goals all matter—a lot. Answering critical questions related to these areas will help you determine the type of system you’ll need and the limitations you’ll face and give you an idea of what you need to budget for the equipment.
Read on to learn more.
What Is a Sortation System?
Once upon a time, workers literally had to sort through mail, waste materials, or products to separate items from one another or ensure certain products received the correct packaging or went to their intended destination. While people are still very much a part of the sortation process today, much of the heavy lifting and repetitive labour is done by machinery (or robots, in some cases).
Since sorters were invented in the early 1900s, they’ve offered a wide variety of industries a way to automate the sorting process in a factory or warehouse, thus making operations more scalable, efficient, and cost-effective. Automated sorters are typically combined with a warehouse management system (WMS), which can be programmed in various ways and tells the machinery what to put where.
Today, sorters are defined by their application. For example, you have:
- Shoe sorters
- Narrow belt sorter
- Pop-up roller
- Tilt tray sorter
- Bomb bay
- Cross belt sorter
- Hanging garment sorter
Within this, there is a wide range of sorting lines—machinery systems like the hopper sorting system that combine various types of sorters with other equipment like conveyors, picking systems, lifts, balers, bins, bag openers, bunkers, hoppers, and more.
There are many benefits of implementing a sorting system in your business, from making the best use of typically limited floorspace to getting items packed or baled up and out the cargo door faster.
Common Sorting Systems Applications
Before you consider what type of sorter you need, you must consider the application. Your need will typically fit into one of three areas: receiving, packing, or shipping. (Of course, many companies need a system that covers two or three areas in a single facility.)
Receiving refers to the area of a business that deals with inbound materials or products. This could be anything from waste electronics in a recycling centre to mail in a post office. The sorter helps you to manage the flow of items as they arrive, sorting them into various segments.
The sortation machinery you need for a receiving system depends on the volume of material you’ll receive and the number of categories you want to sort it into. In other words, how many inbound trailers will you unload at one time? And how many destinations are the materials being sorted for?
If you run an OEM or ODM product manufacturing facility or e-commerce or shipping business, you’ll likely have packing sortation needs. Here, you’ll be sorting products (or parts) into various lines to get them into their pre-designated packaging and ready for shipment to the customer.
You need to consider how many stations you have along the packing line. These could potentially include:
- Quality control
- Gift wrapping
- Value adding
Lines are typically organised by product SKUs or part numbers and what type of packaging each item requires. The end destination, in this case, is usually the warehouse, where the products await transportation.
The final area of a manufacturer or warehouse needing sortation equipment is shipping.
In almost all cases, the products or items you produce or process will need to be moved elsewhere. For example, in a waste processing plant, some material can’t be repurposed and needs to be moved to waste disposal or another facility. In an e-commerce storehouse, packaged products are shipped to the purchaser.
Here, you need to consider:
- What volume of products are you dealing with at any one time?
- Where do items need to be moved from and to for loading?
- How many pallet build-up locations do you have?
- How many trailers need loading at one time?
Making a Choice: Factors to Consider
Automated sorting systems are as varied and customisable as the way businesses—even in the same industry—choose to operate. This can make it challenging to select the right system for your needs.
Your Overall Goals
First, you must think carefully about why you need a sortation system. In other words, what are the outcomes you’re hoping the investment will achieve for your business?
To get an idea of your needs, interview employees at all levels of the business. In other words, don’t just focus on management, but go grassroots with your interviewing. This will give you insight into where a sorting system is best used, the layout of such a system, and the features it needs.
Consider the answers to these questions:
- What are your goals for expansion, floor space, efficiency, quality control, speed, safety, and future-proofing?
- What are the attributes of the products or items you need to sort—consider type, weight, size, and material)?
- How does the product or material arrive at your facility?
- Does the product or material contain reflective elements (this can negatively impact automation technology)?
- Are the products or materials readable or scannable?
- Do the products or materials require human interaction, or can the process be completely automated?
- Are there any safety concerns?
- What floor space do you have to work with?
- Considering peak periods and low seasons, how much volume needs to be moved in a specific timeframe?
- For shipping, how many loading docks or bays are you feeding to, and what is their maximum volume?
- What are the growth predictions for the business in the short and long term?
Once you have these answers in mind, you can start to narrow down the types of sorters or talk with a sorting line provider to help you design a bespoke system to fit your needs.
Let’s look at some of the essential consideration factors in more detail.
Your Products or Items
No one sorter is made equal. This is true as much within a single equipment manufacturer or brand as it is across them. Each sortation machine or element in a sortation system is designed to serve one or a few industries, product types, or materials.
Therefore, it’s vitally important to consider the type of material or product you deal with and the industry you’re in when researching sorters. This will help narrow your search so you can quickly find the needed equipment.
Consider things like material size, fragility, shape, weight, safety (for example, hazardous waste materials may need specialist equipment) and industry demands like turnaround times.
Your Throughput and Destination Needs
If you’re in an industry that demands a high turnaround of products or materials, you may need to consider upping your budget. The more rapid the throughput and the more optimised your set-up, the more sophisticated the automation technology you’ll need to invest in.
Throughput rates are typically divided into high, medium, and low—with pricing usually reflected accordingly. Deciding which rate you need will, again, help narrow your search.
Don’t forget, too, to consider the number of destinations you need, since this will dictate the number of lines and other equipment you need.
Your Factory or Warehouse Layout
Available space plays a significant factor in the size and design of a sortation system. Some sorters simply won’t fit in a small space.
List factors like the total size of your facility in square metres, the ceiling height (verticle space considerations), the size of the available floor space, and whether you want a linear or looped system.
Learn How the Right Sorting System Can Streamline Your Operations
When it comes to finding the right sorting system for your plant, factory, or warehouse, you can’t be too thorough in your preparation. You need to understand how all your business metrics will be affected by the type of system you end up with. You also need to account for future needs—from business expansion (in volume) to changes in products, services, and technology.
Sorters can undoubtedly increase efficiency in a product movement setting. However, that’s only if the system is designed with efficiency in mind. Take the time to consider your needs, goals, and, of course, your budget carefully.
ANIS Trend is a decades-old machine-building company based in Slovenia with an international reputation for design excellence and reliability. We focus on the waste material industry, selling a wide range of auto-tie channel bale presses, conveyors, and sorting systems. Find a dealer near you today.