What are sorting robots?

May 21, 2024
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What are sorting robotics?

Sorting robotics refers to the use of robots in sorting materials and products. 

These bots use automated systems like computer vision, artificial intelligence, and robotic arms to identify, pick, and place different items.

How sorting robots work

Sorting robots use a combination of hardware and software to automatically sort and pick items from a warehouse or factory floor. 

How? Let’s take a look:

  • With robotic arms with suction cups or grippers that can grab and move objects of various shapes and sizes. 
  • These robots move on tracks or wheels to access items in different locations.
  • Cameras and sensors help the robot determine an item's size, shape, and position. 
  • The robot's software then calculates the best way to grasp and lift the item without dropping or damaging it. 
  • Once it has a secure hold, the robot moves the item to the appropriate container or conveyor belt for sorting based on parameters provided by the warehouse management system.

How sorting robots are used today (in different industries)

Sorting robots are pretty much ubiquitous in manufacturing and logistics due to their ability to work on high-volume operations without breaking a sweat. (Literally)

E-commerce fulfillment 

E-commerce companies rely heavily on sorting robots in their fulfillment centers to sort and ship the millions of orders they receive each day. 

Robots can sort items by customer, shipping method, and destination much faster than humans — a must-have for fulfilling delivery expectations. 

Keeping the postal service running smoothly

National postal services have integrated sorting robots into their operations to handle the huge volume of mail and parcels they process daily. 

Sorting robots can perfectly sort letters, flats, and parcels by zip code and route to speed up delivery. 

This takes out a lot of the hassle that comes with manual sorting methods.

From food processing plants to your table

Food processing companies use sorting robots to handle and sort food items. 

Their robotic grippers and sorters can gently pick and place delicate food items without damaging them. 

These bots help ensure that food quality and safety standards are met by removing contaminated, spoiled (yuck!), or flawed food items from the production line.

Helping recycling efforts 

Sorting robots are instrumental in recycling centers for sorting recyclables. 

They can identify and sort different types of plastics, paper, glass, and metals at high speeds. 

Even more advanced robots with AI-based computer vision can determine an item’s recyclability with super-high accuracy.

All in all, this helps recycling centers deal with much higher recycling rates.

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The benefits of sorting robots

Sorting robots come with some tremendous advantages. Let’s take a look: 

  • Slash processing times: Sort items at lightning speed, handling significantly more items per hour than manual labor ever could.
  • Eliminate human error: Achieve consistent accuracy and reduce costly mistakes with precision sorting, leading to higher quality output and less waste.
  • Free up your workforce: Allow your team to focus on higher-value work by automating repetitive tasks, boosting productivity and job satisfaction.
  • Maximize floor space: Optimize your warehouse layout with compact sorting solutions, freeing up valuable square footage for other operations.
  • Scale effortlessly: Easily adapt to increasing demand by adding more automation as your business grows, making sure your sorting capabilities keep pace with your success.
  • Unbeatable ROI: You’ll typically see an ROI of just 1-3 years with these bots. 

The challenges and limitations of sorting robotics

Sorting robots are great, but that doesn’t mean they’re perfect.

Here are some of the challenges of implementing sorting robotics: 

  • Costs can add up. Sorting robot systems require a hefty upfront investment. The robots themselves can cost between $25,000 to $100,000 or more per unit, depending on their complexity and capabilities. Additional expenses include conveyor belts, sensors, software, and integration with your warehouse management system.
  • You’ll need floor space. Sorting robots and the equipment they rely on, like conveyor belts, can take up a significant amount of floor space. They may not be a 10/10 fit for operations with limited square footage. The robots also need ample room to maneuver, pick, and place items. Narrow aisles or cramped workspaces will reduce their effectiveness.
  • Change management is a priority. Adopting sorting robotics requires retraining employees and adjusting standard operating procedures. Workers will need to learn how to properly load and unload the robots, monitor them for errors, and handle exceptions. New safety protocols will also need to be put in place. This change management process can temporarily slow productivity and efficiency. 

Is a sorting robot right for your business?

So you’re intrigued by the idea of automated sorting in your warehouse or distribution center. Before investing in sorting robot technology, you’ll want to determine if it’s the right solution for your needs.

Think long and hard about these: 

  • How much can you spend? Sorting robots aren’t cheap. You’ll need to weigh the initial capital investment versus potential cost savings and increased efficiency over the long run. If you have a high-volume operation, then sorting robots pretty much pay for themselves. But, if you have a very small operation, it may still be worth it to do things manually. 
  • The speed is only necessary if there’s corresponding volume. Today’s sorting robots are fast, capable of sorting up to 2,000 items per hour with high accuracy. If fast order fulfillment and high throughput are priorities for your business, a sorting robot can help you achieve maximum efficiency. However, if you have a smaller volume of orders and less urgency, manual sorting may suit your needs fine.
  • Not every product is the same. Certain products are better suited for automated sorting than others. Robots excel at handling uniformly sized and shaped items that can be easily scanned and manipulated. Delicate, irregularly shaped or fragile products may still require human sorters. 
  • Can your facility accommodate these bots? Sorting robots require properly designed facilities to function. You’ll need enough space for the robot, conveyor belts, and material handling equipment. The area must be accessible for technicians to service the robot. Your building may need reinforcement to handle the weight. 
  • Ready for inevitable staffing changes? Although sorting robots aim to reduce dependence on human labor, you’ll still need technical staff to program, operate, and maintain the robots. Some of your existing warehouse staff may need retraining for new roles. Make sure you understand how robotics will impact your staffing needs before implementation.

Summing up

Sorting robots are pretty neat machines that can make quick work of organizing all kinds of stuff for you. 

For many businesses handling tons of small objects like parcels or parts, a sorting robot could be a godsend — a real way to speed things up without dropping the ball.  

Just make sure to think through how it would fit into your shop floor before taking the plunge. 

Next steps

Supercharge your operations with RO1 by Standard Bots, a cutting-edge six-axis robotic arm engineered for peak performance and adaptability.

  • Cost-effective titan: Experience automation with RO1's advanced robotics at half the price of the competition. 
  • Best-in-class performance: RO1 outperforms its peers, effortlessly handling payloads of up to 18 kg with unbeatable speed and accuracy, minimizing errors and maximizing output.
  • Intelligent adaptability: Equipped with powerful AI comparable to GPT-4, RO1 learns and adapts continuously to your evolving production needs, ensuring optimal performance at every stage.
  • Prioritizing safety and collaboration: RO1 is designed for collaboration with your team, prioritizing safety through advanced vision capabilities and intelligent sensors that facilitate secure interaction.

Contact us today to schedule a free 30-day trial and see firsthand how RO1 can transform your business!

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