With its new Cranbury, N.J., distribution facility set to open, third-party logistics service provider Distribution Management Group Inc. (DMG) was looking for a fast and flexible material handling system. At the new site, the company would be responsible for sorting, packing, and shipping products for its clients in the footwear industry, and it needed equipment that could reliably process 100 shoeboxes per minute. With the clock ticking, DMG turned to one of its long-time suppliers, Baltimore, Maryland-based systems integrator Conveyor Handling Co. (CHC), for help finding the right system.
CHC was a logical choice for the job. It has been designing solutions for manufacturing companies, e-commerce and retail distributors, and others since its inception in 1975. Despite this deep expertise, it faced an interesting challenge with the DMG project: finding a sortation system that could handle the client's high product volumes.
Technically it was possible, just not in the way DMG had imagined, the company realized.
"[DMG] originally wanted us to design a distribution center modeled after its existing facilities," explained Rich Rittermann, vice president of operations at CHC, in a release. "In this instance, an employee would push a cart up and down each aisle, picking shoes as they went; when the cart was full, they'd move it to a central sorting area, where other workers would start pulling boxes off the different carts and packing them until each order was filled. There was nothing wrong with their process, except that I knew it would be too labor-intensive and eventually become unmanageable at the volumes they were anticipating. They needed an automatic sortation system, and it was my job to convince them of that."
Rittermann had previous experience with automated sortation systems, but the combination of high product volumes and the need to sort color, size, and style combinations by the hundreds led him to consult with Interroll, a material handling solutions provider that happened to be working on a shoe distribution center in Mexico. After careful consideration, the companies agreed that Interroll's horizontal cross-belt sorter would be the right fit for DMG's distribution center.
FAST AND ACCURATE
Unlike traditional crossbelt sorters, Interroll's solution uses a pneumatically actuated plate and drive wheel mechanism—rather than a motor on each carrier—to transfer goods to the appropriate chute. According to the company, this reduces electricity costs and simplifies maintenance to increase reliability. It also makes the sorter versatile; the gentle motion means it can be used with delicate products like eggs and yogurt, and still be powerful enough to move heavy sacks of grain or animal feed, Interroll says.
The system is both smart and accurate, with automatic recirculation of "no reads" and overflow products—a particularly important feature in e-tail, where system demands are unpredictable. The horizontal crossbelt sorter is also "smart" about floor space, according to the manufacturer. The unit features a modular design that's both compact and easy to reconfigure based on changing needs, Interroll says. In this particular application, CHC double-stacked the conveyor, maximizing the system's throughput without increasing its footprint.
As for the results, CHC's leaders say they consider the project a success. "I was very pleased with the cooperation between Interroll, DMG, and the CHC installation team and project managers," Rittermann said in the statement. "It was a big step forward for our customer. It's using [the new sorter] every day and is shipping out 15,000 to 30,000 pairs of shoes each day, with capacity for much more."