How Automated Sortation Systems Improve Warehousing Operations
Automated Sortation Systems Boost Workforce Productivity and Safety
Why is sortation used in warehousing and why is it so important? Up until recently, most warehouses received, stored, and handled inventory in pallets. Orders were primarily for pallets of goods. As consumers began to shop online, orders needed to be picked, packed, processed, and shipped on an individual basis. Warehouse operations had to change. Warehouse workers now had to pick orders, often multiple items per order, sorting the inventory into orders for shipment.
Automated sortation systems remove the need for manual operations. This helps to increase the efficiency and labor productivity of the process. Sortation plays a vital role in the day-to-day operations of warehouses and distribution centers and is one of the most significant functions of warehousing and the supply chain process.
For years, sortation systems ran on manual processes and were prone to inefficiencies and errors due to human labor. With the advent of COVID-19, orders came into warehouses at much higher volumes. Warehouses needed help in processing the increased volume and turned to material handling solutions and software companies to develop and implement advanced automation technology to ease supply chain stress.
Warehouses are designed to make sure packages are stored, picked, packed, and shipped in a short period of time. By leveraging automated sortation systems as a warehouse solution, 3PLs and warehouse operators can streamline their operations and allow warehouse associates to work with greater speed and efficiency. Automated sortation systems allow workers to focus on high-level tasks instead of repetitive and mundane ones, reducing the likelihood of human errors and increasing productivity.
Industries That Use Sortation
- Food and Beverage
What Is Sortation?
A sortation system is a material handling process that identifies items and routes them to destinations in warehousing and storage facilities. The processes are automatic and controlled by task-specific algorithms and codes. Sortation systems are usually integrated with other software such as warehouse management systems and may incorporate use of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies. Sortation systems reduce the warehousing need for manual labor to make sure products are palletized, picked, packed, and shipped.
Working in collaboration with fixed conveyors, automatic identification systems and controls, sortation systems give warehouses and distribution centers the power to manage large-volume inventories. By moving materials and products swiftly, sortation systems enable companies to ship and receive more items while utilizing a smaller amount of a warehouses space and labor. This subsequently lowers labor costs and makes warehouse operations more efficient.
Automated sortation systems accounted for 65% share of the global sortation system market in 2020
Automated Sorting Systems and Warehouses
The advent of e-commerce has increased the volume of packages that need to be picked, packed, and shipped. In today’s fast-paced global market, efficient and productive warehousing operations are dependent on automated warehousing concepts such as sortation. Sortation systems that are integrated with warehouse management systems are enabling warehouse logistics and supply chains to run more seamlessly. In 2022, the automated sortation systems market size was $8.09 billion. According to Future Market Insights, the global market for automated sortation systems is forecasted to exceed $14.35 billion by the end of 2030. By utilizing automated sorting systems as a warehousing solution, 3PLs improve their performance by increasing throughput of items. Subsequently, they expedite the fulfillment process while reducing error rates and reducing employee labor.
Due to issues stemming from COVID-19 such as shrinkflation, warehouses and distribution centers are battling sudden rises in stock keeping units (SKUs). The additional SKUs have exacerbated the need for warehouses and distribution centers to increase their capacity to readily handle large volumes of items. To combat this, many 3PLs are utilizing sortation systems that are connected to the Internet of Things. These sortation systems operate at nearly 100% clearance rates. By connecting sortation systems to IoT, warehouses can optimize sortation for speed and accuracy while alleviating pressures in processing additional inventory. The IoT connection can also streamline warehouse management systems by detecting future mechanical failures and scheduling repairs, while automatically altering sortation routes for better efficiency.
These benefits including the ability to expedite delivery times, have increased the use of automated sortation systems. Today warehousing giants such as Amazon and Walmart are heavily investing in optimizing automated sortation as a warehousing solution. In fact, the leading companies in the automated sortation systems market hold 34% of the market.
The demands of e-commerce continue to place strain on warehouses and distribution centers just as supply chains continue to deal with the increased pressure in meeting delivery demands. In addition, the competitive market of today rewards order and shipment speed and accuracy.
Warehouse facilities and distribution centers benefit from automated sortation systems because they reduce workforce labor and save time in handling orders. These benefits are especially useful during the e-commerce fulfillment process where the speed of a 3PL’s sortation system plays a big role in managing inventory. How fast items are sorted, picked, packed, and shipped is dependent on the speed of the sortation system. When optimized for speed and accuracy, automated sortation systems increase the number of packages that a warehouse can handle while decreasing probable errors. This helps warehouses be more cost-effective by lowering the likelihood of return orders and increasing the number of deliverable orders
Slow Speed Sortation System – Able to handle up to 30 items per minute
Medium Speed Sortation System – Able to handle 30 to 200 items per minute
High-Speed Sortation System – Able to handle 150 to 450 items per minute
Automated Sortation’s Competitive Advantage for Warehousing
Humans can only process orders at a fast and steady pace for so long without contributing to errors. Automated sortation systems allow businesses to reduce the effects of human fatigue and minimize the physical and mental stress on warehouse workers. These systems optimize warehouse order processing and help to correctly deliver items, which enhances the customer experience and improves business.
Automated sortation lets warehouses maximize their labor efficiency by allowing workers to focus on tasks that can add more value to warehouse operations. Use of this technology also helps to provide better control over distribution, picking, and handling processes and can be utilized for 24 hours a day to move products. This leads to increased throughput and faster delivery.
Reduces Labor Costs
There are a variety of repetitive tasks that need to be performed in warehousing operations. Automated sorters are used to take a portion of the workload out of the hands of the human workforce. In today’s fast-paced e-commerce market, automated sorters handle many time-consuming and high error tasks. This helps warehouses meet demand and improve worker retention, reducing labor costs.
Any warehousing logistics company will assert that the safety and health of warehouse associates is important to their company as well as to the warehousing industry. When warehouse associates tire from keeping up with operational demands, they can become distracted and cause accidents with products or themselves. Automated sorting systems remove human risks that are associated with human fatigue. They can work quickly and accurately in extreme temperatures or with hazardous materials without compromising efficiency or organization.
How Sortation Is Used in Warehousing
Order Picking Sorting
Types of Sortation Components
As integral functions of warehousing, sortation systems typically perform tasks that route cases, totes, palletized loads, and individual items to and from storage systems, or from picking areas to packaging for shipping. To operate properly, there are several components that make up sortation systems.
A flexible arm that can automatically move products to the desired destination.
A device that utilizes electric, hydraulic, or pneumatic power to push, pull, or move cases, totes, or pallets from conveyor lines.
Sometimes called pop-up diverters, these devices alter the direction that loads are moved on command when it encounters the bottom of a package.
Shoe Sorter Conveyor
Called a surfing sorter, these are best utilized with high-speed automated sorters. They operate independently and help to move loads from the main conveyor lines to the appropriate storage location.
These types of sorters are utilized for high-speed sorting of up to 250 items per minute. They constantly move in a train-like fashion and circulate on closed loop. Automatic controls signaled by sensors tilt and release loads to their proper destination.
Sortation systems provide a variety of benefits for warehousing:
- Process Flow
Key Takeaways of Automated Sortation System Market
- Modern drive systems in automated sortation systems reduce CO2 emissions by 80%
- Accuracy of automated sortation system set to boost perfect order percentage by 3%-4%
- Medium throughput sorters will be most lucrative and are slated to capture 46% of the market share through 2030
- 33% is the overall revenue share of the top 3 countries in the automated sortation system market
- Linear automated sorters will witness the most prolific growth through 2030
Advancing technologies give 3PLs the capabilities to utilize automated sortation as a flexible, smart, and adaptive warehouse solution. When automated equipment such as sortation systems are connected to warehouse management systems through the IoT, warehousing and storage facilities can lower costs and fulfill orders at a higher rate. They can do so because they have the visibility and control necessary to make sure that items and products are picked, packed, and shipped properly. In addition, automated sortation systems improve warehouse safety and support the occupational safety and health of warehouse associates.
As high-volume material handling continues to stake itself as a necessary function in warehousing operations, automated sortation systems will continue to be used to improve logistics and supply chain processes for 3PLs around the world.
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