Sorters with manual induction are reliant on the operators for their effectiveness. When looking for ways to improve the performance of your existing sorters or to get the most out of your brand new sorter, a good place to start is to review the operator capacity. To help understand capacity and identify possible improvements, we will discuss a number of factors that influence the capacity. This is not only relevant for new sorters, but applies to all sorters with a manual infeed, existing and planned.
Different capacities explained
With medium trays configured, the slide tray sorter reaches 9.000 items per hour. However, to reach this capacity, every tray must be filled with an item. This is nearly impossible. That’s why it’s important to know the net capacity of your sorter. For our slide tray sorter, we calculate with 90% efficiency, or 8.100 items per hour.
The net capacity can’t be reached by one operator. This is where the difference between sorter capacity and induction capacity comes in. One operator can induct between 1.200 and 2.000 items per hour, depending on a variaty of factors explained in this paper. In this case, you would need between 5 and 7 operators to reach the net sorter capacity of 8.100 items per hour.
Factors that influence induction capacity
The sorter capacity is the fixed maximum capacity. If this capacity is not sufficient for your daily business, expansion of the system with extra induction zone(s) should be considered. If the sorter capacity is enough to fulfil your targets, but its not reaching its full potential, it probably has something to do with the induction capacity.
The induction capacity is something that can be improved. Let’s take a look at some of the factors that influence the induction capacity.
When looking for a new sorter be sure to keep the sorter capacity, net capacity and induction capacity in mind. These numbers highly affect the design and layout. When in doubt, we can calculate these numbers for you.
Factor one: the flow of goods
Waiting operators are inefficient operators. That’s why it’s important to ensure all operators have a buffer of products to induct. Ultimately this is something that has been considered when designing the sorter. By placing a buffer within reach of the operator, there are always plenty of products to be handled.
To improve the flow of goods of an existing operation, an additional conveyor track could be considered to supply the buffer. Another option is to manually create buffers on the platform by placing enough products within reach of the operator.
Factor 2: experience and skill
Experienced and trained operators take your capacity to the next level. If you have a fairly new sorter, be sure to keep in mind that sorters reach their intended capacity after about 2 months of production. Before that time, operators and other personnel are still getting used to the system and the revised process.
Proper training is key to high-performing operators. They must feel confident when using the system and know what they should and shouldn’t do to maximize their efforts. Be sure to train new operators until they reach the desired level of skill. This not only improves efficiency, but also prevents unnecessary emergency stops or crashes, slowing down all others as well.
“A proper training is key to optimizing the induction capacity."
Factor 3: automating the scanning process
Manual scanning takes time. By integrating an omnidirectional scanner that automatically scans all inducted products, you relieve the operators from the task of having to scan all items manually. This significantly increases their induction capacity.
We always advise to place a manual scanner in addition to the omniscanner. There often are items or barcodes that are hard to scan and still require manual attention.
Factor 4: barcode readability
The barcode placement might be cause for a lower induction capacity. Is the operator inducting items with barcodes that are hard to read? If they’re struggling with the barcode, the induction capacity will be limited.
To optimise the induction of difficult barcodes, look for ways to improve the readability. For example, fashion items could have a barcode on a ticket that’s attached directly to the clothing. The clothing is then packed inside plastic foil. When the ticket is facing the wrong side or if the packaging is blocking the barcode, it’s very hard to scan it. This could be improved by placing a barcode on the outside of the plastic foil, or print on both sides of the ticket.
Factor 5: less is more
When it comes to the workspace, a clean space is an absolute must. By keeping all induction platforms clear of clutter, the efficiency of operators is increased. This can be done by manually removing empty product containers or by using an empty carton or tote take-away conveyor. This solution eliminates the need for additional staff to manually move empty product containers whilst providing the much needed freedom of movement for operators.
Factor 6: Increasing SKU depth per batch
When operators only take out one or two items per container that’s delivered to the induction platform, they spend a lot of time handling these containers.
By increasing the maximum number of inductable items per container, the operator can spend more time on inducting items instead of handling their containers. This can be achieved by increasing the batch picking size and thus the SKU depth per batch.
This whitepaper should have provided you with some pointers to review your induction capacity. These are based on our lessons learned and frequently asked questions. However, every sorter and process is unique and therefore there is no one size fits all solution when it comes to sorters.
That’s why we provide a quick scan, consisting of a visit to your distribution centre and an interview to find out your specific goals. This process takes approximately 1,5 hours. After our visit, we provide a report that outlines possible solutions for your unique logistic operation.