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SORTEX improves lineside picking with live storage

Sortex, the global leader in optical sorters for food commodities, has increased throughput and reduced lineside storage space in sub-assembly production areas by replacing static shelving with highly efficient full-width roller track Span Track units from The Live Storage Company. The changes have helped the company to improve efficiency, reduce product lead times and increase responsiveness to customer demands.

“Our production areas are now even more efficient and better organised than before and we have saved around 10 per cent of the space,” says Campbell Dixon, Manufacturing Engineering Manager at Sortex. “The Span Track units are easy to install and we made the changes without any disruption to our ongoing operation.”

Sortex has manufactured high performance optical sorters which detect and remove defective product and foreign material from food commodities such as rice, grain, coffee, fruit and nuts since 1947. The company now supplies customers in more than 100 countries and has over 20,000 installations worldwide. It employs 180 people at its factory in London and won both the Queen's Awards for Export and Industry in recent years and the UK National Business Award in 2004.

The company is highly focused on customer service and recently reviewed its manufacturing operations to reduce product lead times and increase factory throughput so that it could be even more responsive to customer demands in this highly competitive industry. It recognised that manufacturing products more quickly and with greater agility would help add value to its overall offer.

“How we manage materials was part of the overall project,” says Campbell Dixon. “So we looked at materials handling, lineside handling and how we replenish production areas.”

Sortex identified component handling and picking as areas where it could make improvements, with initial focus on sub-assembly production. Previously components for sub-assemblies were stocked in shelving mounted on conventional pallet racking before being picked for production. This limited item selectivity and constrained the flexibility required to manufacture and assemble complex machinery. Converting these areas for live picking offered the potential for greater efficiency through simpler picking, increased component availability and tidier storage with reduced overall footprint. Sortex chose Span Track because of its ease of installation and robust performance.

The Live Storage Company supplied a number of Span Track units in lengths and widths specified by Sortex so that they could be simply slotted into the existing racking frames to convert an area used for storing up to 60 different components. The simple drop-in design ensured the units could be installed easily without tools and allowed Sortex to convert the old installation for new dynamic live picking very quickly.

“We chose Span Track because the equipment is easy to install,” says Campbell Dixon. “They arrived on a pallet in the correct lengths and all we had to do was slot them into place in the existing frames. There was minimal disruption to our ongoing operations and we completed the task in around half a day.”

With the converted installations components move under gravity from the rear of the installation to the front where they are presented to production staff at the optimum position for picking. This eliminates the need to walk or reach to pick items and also helps keep the production area clean and tidy. The configuration of the storage area ensures production and picking staff can access components whenever they want and without disruption from replenishers. Conversely, replenishment can be maintained without entering the production area. Live storage also allows pick faces to be configured more closely to the dimensions of items which are presented individually and in first-in, first-out sequence for better quality control and stock rotation.

Sortex has reduced the space occupied by the area and improved supply of materials to the lineside. The company estimates that it has saved between 10 and 20 per cent of the space compared with the previous installations which did not use live racking. A more significant but less tangible benefit is that the company now has a much better organised production environment where everything is in its place. This has helped to reduce picking times, optimise inventory levels and generally enhance the agility of the manufacturing process so that it can be more responsive and flexible to customer requirements.

Reliability is essential because any failure in materials flow can disrupt the overall manufacturing process. Span Track is designed to take the abuse of busy production areas. Units are manufactured using tempered aluminium rollers with full-length axles mounted on durable galvanised steel side channels which makes them extremely strong and robust. Full-width rollers ensure total support for cartons, bins and components with up to 300 per cent more product contact than traditional plastic wheel tracking. They also reduce the risk of items snagging which means that material flow is maintained and there is no loss of productivity.

“Another reason we chose Span Track was because the rollers support weight across the full width of the box and not just on the edges which is more robust and reliable,” says Campbell Dixon.

Sortex has now ordered more Span Track units to reconfigure additional areas of the factory for live storage to achieve similar benefits.

The Live Storage Company offers flexible order picking and storage solutions based around the modular Span Track range of full-width roller carton flow track. The company provides consulting, installation and engineering support services to ensure customers achieve the maximum return on their investment.


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