In an online age of demanding e-commerce, labour shortages and burgeoning reverse logistics where would we be without fast, flexible sortation conveyors, the backbone of today’s e-fulfilment centres? Struggling, to say the least, but such is the choice of these conveyors it’s difficult to know where to begin the selection process.

Time was when the impartial systems integrator would have been the best ally because they can move outside their own company’s product range to integrate a complete materials handling system using a wide portfolio of products across several industry sectors. They can also bring innovative thought to a project development without being faced with preconceived design ideas. But times have moved on over the last 20 years following so many mergers so the big equipment suppliers would be the best choice now with their own software developers and knowledge of all the peripheral handling kit that must be integrated with the sorter. This should help prevent avoidable mistakes but always ensure that the data used for the design criteria are valid because in the past this has not always been so.

The sorter selection process is eased when handling a narrow range of products by size and weight as in, for example, mixed mail sorting offices. But even here one eye should be kept on adaptability because markets can change, and nowhere is this more evident than in e-tailing, currently seen as the biggest growth area. A good example here is the new sortation solutions required to cope with the e-commerce-inspired switch to small and lightweight parcels, especially those coming from China. Some postal companies have reported a 10% rise per month in parcels coming from that country. Dutch company, Eurosort, says that conventional cross-belt sorters have difficulty processing these parcels because they are lightweight, with different shapes and sizes that roll easily off the conveyor. Its solution is the split tray sorter, well suited for mixed mail.

The need for making designs future roof is explained by Hilton Campbell, MD of Interroll UK (see our interview on page 10). Having installed 400 sorters worldwide, their products are designed to be flexible and modular, making enhancements and changes less disruptive, so watch out for their launch this year of their high performance cross belt sorter, or HACS. Elsewhere you can read how Durkopp Fordertechnik, part of the Knapp Group, is coping with the trend for retailers to offer more varied goods handling in one versatile sorter. Durkopp is helping one major UK grocery and fashion retailer to distribute over 40 million clothing items a year, handling hanging and flat goods with its Rolleradaptor and Pocket Sorter.

Another example of sorter versatility comes from Vanderlande’s Airtrax pocket sorter which has halved delivery times with a sorter geared to fast-moving and fast-changing product groups. This sorter has been specifically designed to meet the looming omnichannel sector and so is suitable for product assortments that grow rapidly and change frequently. Its key advantage is that many different items can be sorted quickly and accurately into small orders ready for despatch. But whichever sorter is chosen it is more important than ever to consider its energy consumption to meet global environmental targets.

Bill Redmond

Features Editor

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