right_division Green SCM Distribution
Bookmark us
SCDigest Logo

About the Author

Cliff Holste is Supply Chain Digest's Material Handling Editor. With more than 30 years experience in designing and implementing material handling and order picking systems in distribution, Holste has worked with dozens of large and smaller companies to improve distribution performance.

Logistics News

By Cliff Holste

June 24, 2015

Logistics News: Do You Know Your Systems Maximum CPM Rate?

Short Course: Understanding how to Determine Conveyor System CPM Capacity

Holste Says:

...if the material handling system throughput is somehow constricted and the system cannot produce at its full potential, the company is at risk of losing revenue during peak shipping periods, which directly impacts net income.
What Do You Say?

Click Here to Send Us Your Comments
Click Here to See Reader Feedback

Previous Columns by Cliff Holste

Sorting It Out: Packaging Construction Impacts on Logistics Operations

Sorting It Out: System Providers Offering More Modular & Scalable Solutions

Sorting It Out: Business Metrics Drive Technology Adoption

Sorting It Out: Supervising in the DC - Timeless Leadership Skills and Tools First-Line Supervisors Need to be Successful

Sorting It Out: Good Business Security is All About Paying Attention to Details


While improving DC productivity gets a lot of attention - for shippers volume drives revenue. Having the most efficient and productive operation is great! But, if the material handling system throughput is somehow constricted and the system cannot produce at its full potential, the company is at risk of losing revenue during peak shipping periods, which directly impacts net income.

Enabling a DC conveyor system to operate at or near its maximum capacity requires a basic knowledge of system technology and equipment design. The first step is to determining the current CPM (case per minute) rate of the conveyor system - which is not that difficult to do. The following provides how-to instructions:


As it relates to conveyor equipment and sorting systems, the first step in the process is to understand what the current capacity is in terms of cases per minute (CPM). For this you will need a hand-held digital laser tachometer (instrument used for measuring the rotation speed of a shaft or disk). It must be calibrated to measure in feet per minute (FPM). By placing the disk in contact with a moving belt or load carrying roller, the tachometer will provide the conveyors true FPM speed.


The maximum CPM rate of a conveyor system is dependent on the slowest speed conveyor in the mainline through which all cases must flow. In a typical batch order picking and sorting system, this is normally going to be the metering belt conveyor (also referred to as the induction conveyor) located in the mainline feeding the shipping sorter. This is a short (3 to 5 foot long) belt conveyor typically located just prior to the sorting conveyor and is usually feed by one or more accumulation conveyor lines.

Cartons that are placed onto the conveyor system must flow through the induction conveyor prior to being sorted. The primary function of the induction conveyor is to insure that there is sufficient space “gap” between cases so that the sorter can divert individual cases into the after-sort lines. The slow speed side of the induction conveyor determines the maximum case-feet-per-minute the system can deliver.

Note: Check to determine that no other conveyor in the main transportation line is running at a slower speed than the induction conveyor as this will restrict system volume to that speed.


If you want to know how many cases of a specific length the system can sort per minute divide the metering belt speed (FPM) by the case length in feet. For example: if the metering belt speed is 60 FPM then it will handle (60) 1 foot long cases per minute; (40) 1.5 foot long case per minute; and (30) 2 foot long cases per minute. Because the CPM varies with case length, the overall system rate depends on the average length of the cases.


Once you determine the length of the average case you can then calculate the system CPM rate based on the speed of the metering belt. If that amount is more than what you need, the capacity problem is not with the sorting system. You need to do a more in-depth analysis. However, if the metering belt speed is too slow, you need to contact your system provider to see what can be done to increase its speed and then re-calibrate the sorter (usually done through the sorter control panel.


Some capacity problems appear to be obvious and easily fixed by adding accumulation conveyor between picking and sorting operations to smooth out the surges without shutting down picking. However, while this relatively costly approach may provide some temporary relief, it may not fix the underlining system problem. Digging deeper will sometimes reveal the hidden or less obvious problems that sap system capacity.

A good example of this can often be found at the central merge. Here cases of product from multiple picking lines are buffered and automatically merged into a single conveyor line that feeds product to the induction conveyor and on to the sorter. Even when the merge is operating at peak performance, the gaps between slugs of cases being released from the accumulation lines during line switchover can reduce system throughput capacity by 10 to 15 percent. Installing new merge logic can reduce the gap between slugs from the typical 3 to 5 feet to just a few inches regardless of line release sequence. Your system provider can advise if this control upgrade would be beneficial.

For more examples of system modifications that enable higher shipping capacity see – “Extending The Serviceable Life Of A Typical DC Conveying System”


Final Thoughts

Capacity improvements, such as those discussed above, are low risk and can yield significant overall system performance benefits. It is never-the-less a good idea to first have an independent industry expert survey the operation and advise what the best approach is to accomplishing your objectives.



Recent Feedback


No Feedback on this article yet