Loop sorter technology is hardly a new concept in warehouses and distribution centers, but at a time when order cycles are shrinking, it's more valuable than ever before, says Peter Schoen, sales manager with Beumer.
SCB: What is loop sorter technology?
Schoen: It’s the higher end of sortation technology. It includes tilt-tray and cross-belt technology, which basically serves as a transportation or sortation system.
SCB: What kinds of facilities is it most ideally suited for, in terms of size and what goes on within the four walls of a distribution center?
Schoen: Typically, loop sorter technology is used in freight and parcel warehousing and distribution, which includes retail, e-commerce, manufacturing and postal.
SCB: Any particular types of products that it's best meant for, or is it just a general technology that can be applied to anything that can be put in a box or on a pallet?
Schoen: The good part about loop sorter technology is that it's very adaptable. It's ideally suited, whether it's tilt-tray or cross-belt for poly bags, cartons, or totes. Pretty much for a wide variety of things that you might find in a warehouse, distribution or parcel facility.
SCB: In its current form and level of technological sophistication, how long has it been around?
Schoen: Loop sorter technology has been around for 30 or 40 years.
SCB: So there’s nothing particularly new about it. But what about new bells and whistles? What makes it particularly adaptable and useful now?
Schoen: The interesting thing about loop sorter technology is that it's been very adaptive over time. Originally it was developed in the tilt-tray end, then it migrated into cross-belt technology. Cross-belt technology was introduced when more difficult types of product were being handled on sortation systems, like poly bags and smaller items, and the speeds increased dramatically.
SCB: How does it work in conjunction with other automated systems within the warehouse? Are there any issues of integration?
Schoen: Typically it's easily integrated into other systems. One of the newer applications we've seen is that it's been used with goods-to-person technologies.
SCB: Explain that concept.
Schoen: As distribution centers have required higher efficiency, speed and accuracy, and customer order sizes have been dramatically, goods-to-person technologies have grown. They’ve served the purpose of getting more inventory more quickly to order assembly than with previous applications.
SCB: Where do people come in? I take it they’re still required in these facilities.
Schoen: Absolutely. Human capital has become a major factor in driving the new technologies. Goods-to-person addresses that. It does user fewer people, and accuracy has gone way up with the newer systems.
SCB: Where do you see the technology going in the next decade?
Schoen: One of the big factors driving new distribution centers is space. Goods-to-person systems address space, but typically they're surrounded by conventional systems like miles of conveyor and other sortation. The unique thing about loop sorter technologies is that they address all these critical areas. They increase speed, efficiency and accuracy, but they also reduce capital investment, the amount of space required, and the time going from point A to point B in the distribution center.
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