Today, the approach of many retail and e-commerce distributers has centered on converting to Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS) and embracing new Goods-to-Person technologies. While effective, a more wholistic approach could lead to even greater operational efficiencies and cost reductions.
One Loop Sorter, Multiple Advantages
Traditionally, distribution centers have used multiple systems (i.e. conveyors and sorters) to address each targeted phase of distribution. For instance, the receiving area of a warehouse may use a line sorter, inventory and storage may have another, order assembly has its own conveying system, etc. In fact, a typical warehouse may have miles of conveyors operating at the same time. What has been missing is consideration of how a single integrated loop sorter system could be used for all phases of an operation, including serving as a transportation and recirculation system. For example, a loop sorter system could move products from receiving to inventory, then to order processing, from there back to buffer storage, and finally from final assembly to "value add", palletizing and shipping.
While it requires a shift away from traditional warehouse design and construction, the implementation of integrated loop sorter technology has several benefits, including the fact that they require less investment to install and are more cost-efficient to operate. The use of one loop sorter can not only eliminate redundant systems along with the accompanying operations and maintenance costs, but also make more effective use of warehouse space while maintaining the ability to be scaled up as demand increases.
The use of loop sorter technology throughout a facility’s operation offers several distinct advantages:
- Item tracking becomes easier. The use of one system allows for products to be continually monitored throughout the process.
- Increased speed and efficiency. Transportation takes place smoothly from one station to the next, eliminating the need for human travel and associated lag time. Time from order to completion is, therefore, reduced.
- Reduced need for human intervention. This can dramatically increase a distribution center’s ability to operate 24/7.
- Increased reliability. A simple design means fewer moving parts, which leads to less maintenance and a higher uptime. In addition, identifying and repairing a fault issue can be accomplished quicker. In a traditional, multi-system setting, operations may continue for a limited time if one system breaks down but, ultimately, the entire operation will shut down if repairs are not made in a timely manner, and the cost of operating a multi-system environment can quickly outweigh this rare benefit.
Determining if a Loop Sorter System is the Right Answer
There are several factors in considering whether a loop sorter is the right solution for a specific distribution center. Among them are the following:
- What size is my planned warehouse? Single loop sorters can typically handle 12,000-30,000+ packages an hour, which makes them an ideal solution for medium-sized facilities.
- Am I constructing a new facility or retrofitting an existing one?
Ideally, loop sorters are more easily installed in greenfield facilities, since retrofitting a warehouse from multiple sorters to a single system can place a strain on existing operations and work areas may need to be relocated.
- Do I need scalability? In addition to requiring a smaller footprint, loop sorters can be stacked and/or expanded in order to accommodate increased product loads.
While the traditional view of warehouse and distribution center processes is focused on optimizing independent parts of an operation, facilities of the future will need to feature integrated systems in order to maximize efficiency, minimize cost and increase adaptability. As a result, owners will need to become educated about the latest sortation and distribution technologies, and system suppliers will need to ensure they are providing the most efficient solution for their client’s specific application.