Sortation is an essential function in warehouses and distribution centers, but for many years, it was a manual, repetitive process prone to inefficiency and errors. Today, sortation can provide a competitive advantage for companies that leverage intelligent solutions that streamline the process by enabling warehouse associates to complete sorting tasks faster and with greater accuracy.
Why automate? SelectHub explains, “At its most basic, an automated warehouse attempts to cut down on manual tasks that slow down the movement of goods. When a product has to make more stops as it travels through a warehouse, it increases the likelihood of a problem or error occurring along the way.” Automation is changing the warehouse industry by leveraging machines to handle labor-intensive, repetitive tasks, freeing up human labor to focus on more value-added tasks.
Warehouse sortation solutions
Manual sortation solely relies on human workers to identify items individually and divert them to the appropriate locations within the facility. A tedious, repetitive task, manual sortation is highly inefficient and prone to human error. Sortation errors can have significant consequences, increasing labor costs for non-value-added tasks. For instance, if a sortation error is identified, associates need to spend time tracking down items routed to the wrong area and transporting those items to the correct locations.
Warehouses and distribution centers leverage automated sortation solutions to reduce the likelihood of human error and improve sortation efficiency. Typical sortation systems involve conveyors, pushers, and diverters, which are controlled by task-specific software. However, solutions like conveyor systems require permanent infrastructure changes that are costly and can take years to implement.
To overcome these challenges, distribution centers need a more flexible, cost-effective solution to streamline sortation processes. 6 River Systems offers an all-in-one picking and sorting solution that augments the work of human associates and supports faster, more accurate order picking and sorting processes.
How 6 River Systems’ all-in-one picking and sorting solution works
6 River Systems’ collaborative mobile robots optimize pick routes in real-time, reducing unnecessary walking, and guide associates through each task to improve efficiency and productivity. Their Mobile Sort solution enables warehouse associates to efficiently and accurately pick and sort batches into discrete orders, with Chuck, a collaborative mobile robot, directing associates to pick batches into totes. Here’s how it works:
- Preparation: Chuck, 6 River Systems’ collaborative mobile robot, leverages machine learning and AI to optimize pick routes in real time. Chuck carries empty totes and travels to a meeting point where a picking associate awaits.
- Picking: Chucks direct associates to pick batches into totes within a picking zone. It stops at specific bins to direct the associate to pick items and load them into the designated tote. Once all items for a batch are collected, Chucks deliver the batched totes to a Mobile Sort station at the take-off point.
- Sortation: At the Mobile Sort station, associates sort items from totes into discrete orders. Mobile Sort stations have an intuitive interface using lights, images and sensors to direct associates to the correct bins and alert associates to inaccurate puts, improving sorting speed and accuracy.
Once sorting is complete, fully sorted walls are released to pack-out. Walls can also be configured for backside pack-out.
4 ways sortation boosts your competitive advantage
Flexible, intelligent sortation solutions like Mobile Sort by 6 River Systems offer numerous benefits that can give your company a competitive edge. Here’s a look at just a few of the ways that sortation boosts your competitive advantage.
While single order picking is a straightforward process, it’s not the right method for every business. For companies that handle large volumes of orders, single order picking (or discrete picking) can be highly inefficient.
Batch picking can help warehouse operators maximize labor efficiency and speed up fulfillment operations. Associates pick SKUs in bulk to fulfill multiple orders at the same time, reducing travel time. Batches are then sorted into discrete orders, which when done right, can shorten cycle times for fulfilling orders.
Leveraging a solution like 6 River Systems helps to boost picking and sorting productivity. Guided through each task by Chucks, warehouse associates can pick more SKUs in less time. For example, ACT Fulfillment tripled its pick rates and reduced aisle walking by 50% in just three months after implementing 6 River Systems’ solution.
Once picking is complete, Mobile Sort’s intuitive interface enables associates to work efficiently. Instead of checking the bin labels during sorting, associates can quickly locate the lighted bin to place items in the correct bins.
Processing orders at a fast pace contributes to human fatigue, which often results in an increase in picking errors. The right picking and sorting solution minimizes the physical strain on warehouse associates and reduces error rates.
Take Mobile Sort as an example. It optimizes order processing without sacrificing accuracy. Its interface not only directs associates during sortation but also validates the task. If the associate puts an item into a wrong bin, Mobile Sort illuminates the bin with a red light, alerting the associate to the incorrect put.
Improving productivity and accuracy enables companies to deliver the correct orders to the right customers at the right time, boosting customer satisfaction and repeat business.
The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed many companies to shift production, repurposing their factories to make everything from face masks and face shields to protective gowns and respirators, highlighting the critical value of flexible supply chains. As companies look to invest in supply chain resilience to minimize the risk of disruption during crises, warehouse operators will look for flexible equipment, like those with modular designs or adaptability features.
Mobile Sort stations are flexible by design. They’re lightweight, mobile and can be implemented quickly. They can be wheeled in when needed, then wheeled out to free up space which can be used for other purposes. 6 River Systems offers fleet rentals for their collaborative mobile robots, enabling companies to scale up by renting additional units to accommodate spikes in demand, then returning them when demand returns to baseline.
4. Less cost
Order fulfillment is a labor-intensive activity, with order picking accounting for an estimated 55% of a warehouse’s total operating costs. While traditional warehouse automation can improve productivity, solutions such as conveyor systems require substantial and costly infrastructure changes that are disruptive and take years to implement.
Collaborative robots and mobile sortation systems are a more cost-effective, flexible solution that requires no permanent infrastructure changes and offers a faster return on investment. For example, when NFI, a North American supply chain solutions provider, determined that it needed to replace its RF-enabled pick-to-cart system, they needed a solution with the flexibility to be implemented before the next peak without any new infrastructure. 6 River Systems’ solution was implemented within three months and delivered a full ROI within 18 months.
Warehouse automation is a crucial investment for maintaining a competitive advantage. A flexible, intelligent picking and sorting solution like 6 River Systems combines the flexibility of manual picking and sorting with performance improvements and benefits that exceed many traditional automation solutions.