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Cliff Holste

Supply Chain Digest
Material Handling Editor

Logistics News - Sorting It Out

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.

February 8, 2017

Sorting It Out : Product Sequencing – The “Smart” Way to Build Mixed SKU Pallet Loads

Technology Takes the Guess Work out of Building Mixed SKU Pallets


Clearly the bar for building mixed SKU customer specific pallet loads in the DC has been raised. The good news is that material handling technology (equipment, controls, and software) is available to enable DCs to build customer specific pallet loads automatically and cost effectively. There are in fact several automated and semi-automated solutions.

Holste Says...

Product sequencing technologies speeds up pallet building and trailer loading operations while at the same time improving customer service.

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One solution is in some ways like a huge vending machine that incorporates mini-load storage retrieval technology that can sequence product to robotic palletizers in whatever order is required to build a stable mixed SKU load. Multiple robotic functions operate with dual and triple arm technology and, using an actuator based system, can perform six to eight different functions at the same time. Open-source software enables a robot controller to “teach itself” the movements required for the palletizing task.

In semi-automatic operations, where manual labor is used to palletize, in addition to sequencing the cases, 3-D graphic displays show the worker where to place each case throughout the building operation - eliminating the guess work and speeding-up the process. 

While these solutions take advantage of well established hardware, they are driven by sophisticated software programs based on complex algorithms.

In addition to building customer specific pallet loads, automatic product sequencing systems can deliver product in the required sequence to fluid-load trailers. It takes a lot of labor to identify and stake out a trailer’s worth of product into the right loading sequence. This equates to another big opportunity for product sequencing technology which ends up being a combination in which traditional sorting and conveying equipment integrates with new equipment and technology to deliver case-level products in a customer specific sequence.

Final Thoughts

Product sequencing technologies speeds up pallet building and trailer loading operations while at the same time improving customer service. ProMat 2017 provides an opportunity to learn more about how to benefit from this and many other automation technologies – see

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