The Skinny on Small-Item Sorters

A small item sorter can dramatically increase your pick rates by allowing you to select requirements for many orders all at the same time. If you have items that are common to many orders, a sorter has tremendous benefits, since you only need to visit a stock location once, and then can bring as much material as you need to the sorter to be distributed, rather than visiting the same location hundreds of times for individual orders. Even if you pick items that are not common between orders, the sorter can help because it allows you to select materials for a batch of orders at once, and the sorter takes care of sorting out the requirements to individual orders for you.

Many different types of products can be sorted, but a small-item sorter is commonly used to sort packaged goods, books, apparel, sunglasses, jewelry, and other smaller items. If you are sorting non-common items, it is to be able to identify the products. The items you sort be able to be accumulated or stacked easily once they are sorted. Manufacturers have a large variety of order accumulation methods and chute designs.

This type of application is also known as a store “distro” application. A merchant orders a large unit quantity of a particular SKU, and the planner decides how many units will be distributed to each of their stores. This is done for a large number of different SKUs. Once the plan is loaded into the sorter, materials are inducted. When the first case of a new SKU is opened, the UPC is scanned. Then the sorter control system assumes that everything placed on the tray from that time until the next scan is the same garment. It is also possible to scan and place items one at a time, if you have an application in which all the picked items are different SKU.

Sam Flanders is president of Durham, NH-based Warehouse Management Consultants. He can be reached at

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