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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.

May 30, 2018

Sorting It Out: Shippers Looking To Increase System Capacity Are Surprised To Find It May Already Exist!

Uncovering Built-in System Capacity


As volume increases, it’s not unusual for shippers to consider the pros and cons of adding more capacity which often means increasing the capacity of the shipping sortation system. However, before seriously considering adding new equipment, determine what built-in reserve capacity your current shipping equipment may have.

Holste Says...

...real gains can be found in thoroughly examining order processing and smoothing out the peaks and valleys in receiving, picking and shipping system operations.

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This is a smart thing to do because most sorting systems have excess capacity that was not initially utilized. This is true because typically system engineers select equipment that meets current volume requirements, plus sufficient additional capacity for future growth. This allows the equipment to run initially at a reduced speed, conserving energy and extending the life of the equipment. As volume increases speed can be ramped-up to the maximum rate.


If the shipping system was installed sometime ago, it’s possible that current operations management is not aware of the systems ultimate capacity. With a few simple modifications, like changing the ratio of the drive sprockets and re-calibrating the sorter induction and tracking system, higher speeds and sorting rates can be achieved. In addition to making mechanical adjustments, control upgrades may offer additional capacity. A good example would be fine tuning controls to reduce gaps between cases at critical merge points and at the sorter induction which will immediately increase shipping capacity. For more information see – “Increasing System Throughput Capacity – The Fix maybe easier Than You Think”.


Uncovering this additional capability may be as simple as asking your system provider or industry expert how to obtain more capacity out of the equipment you already have.


If the system is relativity new, it may be equipped with speed control that automatically adjusts the operating speed of the entire sortation system from the central merge through the sorter take-away conveyors to accommodate variations in throughput volume. When this feature is turned on the sortation system automatically adjusts to the throughput demand as it changes throughout the day. If there is a surge or decline in flow, the system automatically speeds up or slows down to efficiently accommodate the current rate. In a typical configuration, electronic sensors on the upstream conveyor network detect inbound volume. The system automatically speeds up or slows down accordingly. In a shipping application, electronic sensing monitors downstream accumulation availability. If the shipping lines are backed-up, waiting for more trailers in arrive, or is temporarily under staffed, the sorter can slow down to accommodate. For more information see – “Automatic Conveyor Speed Control – Speed Varies to Accommodate Carton Flow”.


In addition to equipment upgrades, often real gains can be found in thoroughly examining order processing and smoothing out the peaks and valleys in receiving, picking and shipping system operations. Once a conveyor system becomes congested - productivity takes a hit.


Final Thoughts


It could be that the additional capability you need is already in place, just waiting to be uncovered. Assessing embedded features and streamlining processes may be a better option initially than adding more equipment, technology and system complexity.

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