What Is a Sorting Conveyor?

Dan Cavallari

A sorting conveyor is a piece of machinery used to help sort items or materials. The system can vary in design, shape, size, and intended purpose, but all sorting conveyor models are intended to move materials forward on a track while allowing users to sort various materials and move them in various directions accordingly. Most conveyors intended for this purpose are therefore not simply straight line conveyors; instead, they will feature offshoots and intersections at which items can be moved in one direction or another as needed.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

Though the design of a sorting conveyor can vary drastically according to intended application, one of the most common designs features parallel tracks between which several cylinders are mounted. The items to be transported will rest on top of these cylinders, which are mounted on axles that allow the cylinders to turn freely. The items being transported will then slide along the sorting conveyor until they reach intersections, at which point they may stop and require sorting by hand, or they may fall into a certain chute or slide according to the size of the item. Some automatic sorting conveyor systems can identify in which direction the item should be propelled once it reaches an intersection.

Other sorting conveyor models do feature one simple, straight line design. Workers will stand on either side of the conveyor system and operate the belt that is wound around the conveyor cylinders by pressing on foot switches. These foot switches will control a motor that can speed up, slow down, stop, or change direction of the belt. Items can be loaded onto the sorting conveyor, and workers can sort through items that are being transported on the system. This is a very simple conveyor system that may also feature hydraulic cylinders that raise or lower one end of the belt to provide easier loading or unloading capabilities.

Automated sorting systems will feature computerized controls that will allow materials to be sorted without human control or interaction. This is suitable for high-volume jobs that would require high levels of manpower otherwise. Automated systems tend to be more expensive than manual systems, and operators of these machines will usually need to undergo significant training before the system can be used effectively. Manual systems tend to be less expensive and far easier to use; they are also more easily serviceable, whereas automated systems may require lengthy troubleshooting and diagnostics.

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