Sortation processes have changed and advanced in recent years. In the past, businesses had to utilize manual sorting methods. Today, though, various automated sortation solutions boost efficiency, lower labor costs, and increase the company’s capital gains.

Sometimes selecting the best technology for the sorting process can be challenging. This is especially true for businesses that still use a manual sorting process and want to upgrade to automated sortation technology. Even those businesses who simply need to upgrade their processes have a variety of choices when selecting automated sortation devices.

Learning about the applications, benefits, and types of automated sortation available can be helpful to businesses needing to choose the right automated solutions for their sorting procedures.

What Is Sortation?

Sortation is identifying things on a conveyor and sending them to a specific location within the shipping operation. For example, sortation sends items to packing stations or to shipping doors. Manual sortation relies on human eyes to identify specific objects and send them where they need to be. On the other hand, automated sortation uses various technologies like sensors and barcode scanners to sort items without human intervention.

Automated sorters vary based on the technology they are based upon. Businesses can tailor the sensors, the way items are diverted, and the conveyance method based on product handling and throughput needs.

Benefits of Automated Sortation

Sortation is an easily repeated, low-value task. Automating that task allows order fulfillment operations to realize multiple benefits. Those benefits include:

  • Less double-handling of orders and less walking
  • Reduced labor costs
  • Fewer growth issues caused by lack of available labor
  • Optimization of the picking strategy
  • Streamlined packing operations
  • Order accuracy improvement
  • Orders processed faster
  • Order volumes increased without adding more labor
  • Fewer accidents
  • Fewer broken or damaged products
  • Efficiently used floor space
  • Some models allow for reclaimed unused vertical space


Sortation System Applications

Picking tends to get the attention when it comes to sortation. Automated sortation can help to optimize order fulfillment systems for modern operations. Order fulfillment isn’t the only operation that automated sortation is well-suited for. Here are some of the other processes that can benefit from automated sortation.

1. Receiving


Using automated sortation during the receiving process can help businesses process inventory as it comes in with more efficiency. Receiving-focused applications that automated sortation can augment include:

  • Processing returns: Cartons can be sorted to specific areas to efficiently handle the return, provided enough information about the return is available. After goods have been dispensed to the appropriate locations within the warehouse, things can be distributed for adding to stock, filling open orders, returning to vendors, or destroying.
  • Putaway: An automated receiving system helps efficiently remove inventory cases from a trailer and sort them by SKU. The sorted cases can then be palletized for being placed in inventory storage.
  • Cross Docking: Inventory that comes in ready to ship out through active orders can be routed directly from receiving to shipping.


2. Picking and Packing


The most labor-intensive tasks faced by any order fulfillment service are order picking and packing. Operations that currently use manual picking strategies have workers walking back and forth to pick items and put them together as orders for processing. Having this much manual labor has high costs in wages and time.

Larger operations with medium- to high-volume fulfillment operations can use an automated sortation system to add to or change their picking strategy, increasing productivity. For example, workers who no longer need to sort or transport orders can remain within a specific area which allows them to complete more inventory picks within the same time constraints. That allows the sorter to direct goods to the appropriate area for packing and shipping.

High-volume operations such as eCommerce businesses can pick items for large batches, allowing a sorter to consolidate them into the correct orders. When the process is finished, operators are alerted to pack and ship the orders. In medium-volume operations, sorters can consolidate multiple portions of an order from separate picking areas. This allows all items to arrive at the same packing station so the entire order can be packed together. Automated processes can also enable splitting parts of orders into specific types of shipping containers.


3. Shipping


The next logical step after picking and packing is shipping. An effective automated sortation system used for the shipping process can allow for zone skipping by presorting groups of orders and allowing for less time in transit, shorter order cycles, and lower freight costs. That means more orders are processed within a specified time frame leading to happier customers.

Businesses can choose their sorting methods. Before selecting the appropriate sorter for shipping requirements, companies should know the minimum and maximum sizes of the products for handling and shipping. It’s also essential to know the peak hour and volume of shipping as well as how many trailers must be loaded simultaneously.

Types of Sortation Equipment


There are two broad categories of automated sortation systems. The first is case sorters. These work by sorting and transporting entire cases, totes, or orders from one place to another within the same facility.

The second is unit sorters. These work by sorting and transporting individual items within the facility. Some sorters can sort both units and cases, making them multi-functional systems.

Examples of case sorters are:

  • Pop-up wheel/roller/belt sorters
  • Pivoting arm sorters
  • Pusher sorters
  • Examples of unit sorters are:
  • Tilt-tray and crossbelt sorters
  • Push tray sorter
  • Bombay sorters
  • Pouch/pocket sorters
  • Garment-on-hanger (GOH) sorters
  • Examples of sorters that can handle both case and unit sorting are:
  • Sliding shoe sorters
  • Narrow belt sorters


Save Time, Money and Errors with Automated Sortation


Automated sortation systems, when utilized properly, make shipping and receiving processes more efficient and less costly. Automated sortation systems allow for faster order processing because there is less double-handling of merchandise. Workers can focus on a specific area rather than moving throughout a warehouse, picking products. Businesses have the choice of case sorters, unit sorters, or sorters that can do both to automate their processes.