The Director of Fulfillment assigns you a project to specify a new sorter and conveyor system that’s capable of ‘doubling’ current capacities.
Where do you start?
First, start by understanding and challenging the true sortation and system requirements. Conveyor and sortation systems are engineered solutions. Like most engineering problems, the solution is typically only as good as its inputs.
Accurate data upfront ensures the solution is tailored to your individual business requirements and product specifications.
Even though there are tradeoffs to consider, a narrowed down scope can increase sortation options to consider and ensure the desired cost-benefit is achieved. For example, reduced throughput rates and standardized package sizes can help reduce scope as well as reduce risk but at the cost of some flexibility.
However, everyone’s case will be different so let’s consider three keys to ensure you help specify the most cost-effective solution and impress the Fulfillment Director with its post-implementation performance!
Key #1: Real Throughput Requirements
- Is doubling current capacity a real requirement based on projected growth or is it a desire that’s ‘nice to have’?
- How many diverts are desired vs. diverts actually required?
Faster throughput speeds often narrow solution offerings and the higher the throughput requirement, typically translates to a larger investment.
Please don’t think you have to plan your sorter for ‘peak’ volume either, as you should have other means to scale operations. And after all, you will need ability to induct product into the system at a rate greater than or equal to the determined outbound rate in order to achieve the desired throughput. Output cannot be greater than input.
Each divert will need the ability to run at the determined throughput level individually also. For example, 25 Cartons Per Minute (CPM) = System Requirement = ‘X’ Diverts that ALL need the ability to run 25 CPM independent of the others. Speed and throughput should consider and account for growth as well.
Key #2: Comprehensive Product Specifications
- What product(s) will be running through the new sortation system?
- Are there any oversized products or slow runners that add to the system’s complexity and/or requirements that could be excluded from system scope?
At minimum, you need to know the maximum, minimum and average of products that will run on the sorter. It’s even better to know throughput of each various product size and weight and will sizes be random or fairly consistent.
Product specifications include length, width, height, weight, load distribution, orientation and anything else that might be application noteworthy. For example, is the product fragile or temperature sensitive.
Generally, it’s always best to complete product testing during the system design process to reduce as much risk as possible.
Key #3: Layout Constraints & Other Considerations
- Where will product be inducted and where will product need to be transported? Directly into a truck trailer or staged for additional processing?
- Or what additional value could you add and/or incorporate prior to the new sorter to take advantage?
You will need an accurate, well documented layout of the area with constraints clearly identified. These can include column locations, electrical panels, pedestrian and equipment aisleways, dock door spacing, overhead clearances, etc.
The sorter will likely require a good size ‘linear’ footprint depending on the actual application details.
In addition to the sorter itself, gapping conveyors will be required to properly space product and will add to the linear footprint. The gap or space added between products prevents product damage and also allows products to scan, track and sort properly within the system.
Furthermore, a high-level understanding of each product’s process flow would be beneficial too, the more detail the better! When doing a process flow, there’s plenty of auxiliary ‘value add’ equipment to consider.
Each piece of equipment will have its own unique set of attributes (footprint, utility requirements, etc.) that will impact the overall system design requirements such as accumulation before and after, skew product to align to machine and gap product as needed.