When it comes to selecting an automated sortation system, warehouses, distribution centers, and other order fulfillment facilities have a number of options available to choose from. One such system, popular in the apparel industry, has the potential to benefit a wide range of operations in a number of other industries: The pocket sorter.
Below, we take a look at what pocket sorters are, how they work, the various applications that they support, and the benefits they offer so that you will be better equipped to choose the sorter that is right for your operation.
What is a pocket sorter?
A pocket sorter, also known as a pouch sorter, is exactly what it sounds like: An overhead sortation system which relies on pockets, pouches, or bags to store and convey product. While there are a variety of different models, they all work roughly like this:
A trolley or rail system is installed on the ceiling of the warehouse/distribution center, helping the facility reclaim otherwise unused space.
Individual pockets or pouches hang from this rail system.
Pockets are conveyed individually and can be moved independently.
Items are picked into pouches (typically one unit per pouch), and the pouch is then transported for further picking, processing, and packing.
Throughput for pouch/pocket sorters typically falls somewhere in the range of 100-120 pouches per minute. Pocket sorters are particularly common in ecommerce order fulfillment, and facilitate batch picking strategies.
Though pocket sorters can handle a wide range of hard goods effectively, they are often not suitable for sorting fragile or heavy items. Most pocket sorters have a weight limit of 10-20 pounds.
Pocket Sorter Applications
Pocket sorters can be leveraged to effectively sort a wide range of product and materials. They are most commonly used in ecommerce order fulfillment, particularly in the handling of apparel and shoes. Generally speaking, so long as a product fits in the pouch, is under the weight limit, and is not too fragile, a pocket sorter can be an effective means of sortation.
These sorters can also be extremely helpful in processing items for which traditional conveyors or sorters would not work. For example, items that roll (balls, tubes, cylinders, etc.) are more likely to fall off of a flat-topped conveyor, but would be secure in the pouch of a pocket sorter.
Additionally, pocket sorters can be particularly effective in operations which handle larger orders (four lines or more per order), as is common in mid- or low-priced ecommerce apparel, which require that customers spend a certain dollar amount in order to qualify for free shipping.
Beyond sortation, pocket sorters can also be used to sequence product packing, accumulation, or for returns processing.
How Pocket Sorters Improve Order Fulfillment
If you’re considering leveraging a pouch or pocket sorter for your operation, it’s important to consider these benefits of the technology:
1. Orders require fewer human touches.
Every time a product is touched, it costs an operation money in the form of labor and inefficiency. Therefore, any technology that can cut down on the number of touches required to process an order will streamline workflows and, ultimately, translate into substantial savings.
With pocket sorters, the only human touches required are for picking and packing.
2. Picking into pocket sorters is faster than other options.
Warehouses and distribution centers utilize a range of technologies and strategies, depending on the specific needs of their operation. There is no single correct strategy that will work best for all operations; each facility needs to consider their own goals and reality in making that decision.
That being said, batch picking into pocket sorters can lead to much faster order fulfillment compared to manual batch picking or picking to put walls. This is because, after a unit is batch picked and placed in a pouch, that pouch is automatically sorted by order. The picker doesn’t waste time thinking about where that item needs to go next, or travelling to deliver that item elsewhere.
3. The technology is extremely versatile.
As mentioned above, pocket sorters can handle a wide range of products. This makes them a versatile sortation solution, perfectly suited for operations which process highly varied orders or product types.
As long as the item fits in the pouch and doesn’t exceed the weight limit, it can be handled by the pocket sorter. Large, small, soft, hard—it doesn’t matter, so long as the product isn’t too brittle or fragile.
Is a pocket sorter right for your operation?
Ultimately, deciding whether or not a pocket sorter is the best solution for your sortation needs will depend upon a number of different factors, including the type and variety of product you handle, your average order size, and throughput requirements. Though pocket sorters come with many powerful benefits for the right operation, there are a number of other viable alternatives that could also help you fulfill your needs.
If you’re having trouble understanding which automated sortation technology is the best fit for your operation, speaking with a trusted systems integrator can be a great place to start.