In a case-quantity world, conveyor was king. E-commerce, poly bags and the need for incredible flexibility posed a brief challenge, but convey and sort technologies have reclaimed the crown.
The growth of e-commerce is driving profound changes in the way warehouses and distribution centers operate, and the effect is particularly pronounced in the world of conveyors and sortation systems. Historically, these systems were designed around fulfilling retail, brick-and-mortar stores with full cases on a conveyor or line sorter.
Operating in a singulated flow, these systems ferry one large case after another. This design becomes much more difficult in e-commerce, where equipment is expected to handle each individual item. From small adjustments to wholesale replacement, there is no shortage of options to address the issue. Certainty of what the future will bring and how best to design solutions accordingly is in much shorter supply.
I think of it as a journey,” says Tim Kraus, director of product management for Honeywell Intelligrated. “The entire industry is trying to find better solutions as it shifts to handling individual items. The most critical element right now is that conveyors and sorters must be able to adapt.”
Adaptability is not a feature for which conveyors and sortation systems are known. Brad Radcliffe, vice president of sales, sortation and distribution for Beumer Corp., says that thinking has already changed.
“High end sortation, loop sorters and fixed conveyors have always been seen as a fixed solution to a moving target, so they carry that stigma to some extent,” Radcliffe says. “The technology now lends itself to more flexibility since it now incorporates the next evolution of communication. In the past, when you wanted to modify a sorter, you had to go put physical things on it to tell it to take a certain action at a certain point. Now, there’s constant communication throughout, and so you can systemically make changes to the sorter on the fly. This is a game-changer, and customers are coming to understand that’s a huge piece of the puzzle.”
Modifications, modules and maintenance
Materials handling calls for highly configurable equipment as no two applications are the same. In fact, Kraus says, a single standard conveyor product could be configured in millions of different ways depending on length, speed, motor size, controls and more. But, what if you would like to transform the conveyor you have into one of its millions of other forms?
According to Ken Ruehrdanz, manager of the distribution systems market for Dematic North America, the technology has to be designed, engineered and implemented so it can be easily reconfigured.
“A lot of professionals might think of convey and sort as old technology from the 1990s for case conveying, but it has a foundational place in the new, modern DC,” Ruehrdanz says. “Methods that are more automated, more space-saving and more productive need to be connected somehow, and that’s with conveyor. Because the new supply chain is so variable, the mechanization also has to be able to change with ease. Ten years ago, the distribution environment didn’t change as much as it does today, but if it did have to change, the legacy of convey and sort products was that each divert point, curve or incline is a separate piece of equipment hooked together, a ribbon of conveyor. Now, we can reset the components in the side channel to reconfigure one to the other.”
Read the full story here: https://www.mmh.com/article/conveyors_sortation_carrying_the_e_commerce_burden/conveyors