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Conveyor Merges and Sortation: Low Volume Alternatives

How to merge and separate system flows

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Right angle pusher for a conveyor line

Sorting, pushing and diverting products as they are transported on a conveyor system is one of the best ways to reduce costs, improve fill rates, eliminate errors and increase throughput — and there are multiple ways to go about it. Some systems are downright plodding–pushing only a few loads per minute–while others are dizzyingly fast, pushing out hundreds of diverts per minute. This post will profile some of the lower to medium speed options at your disposal.

What are you conveying? How fast do you need to convey it? How often and where are you diverting it?

Techniques, technology and implementations always follow need and application. Define your loads first, breaking them down by type (tote, carton, poly bags/envelops, loose items), shape, weight, balance and dimensions. Some products may not be suitable for some sortation methods. By defining your loads, you eliminate any unsuitable sortation method.

Sortation technology ranges from steady to very fast. What you’ll need depends on the speed of your conveyor line, the throughput of the system, the variety of destinations and the number of sorts required from the system.

Low-speed methods

light directed picking


For many, product sortation needs low-volume sorters such as pushers, which are mounted on the side or overhead of a conveyor line. They push products off a line 90° during a sortation cycle onto another conveyor line, spur or into a chute. A right-angle pusher can achieve 45 cycles per minute. Overhead pushers also divert products 90 degrees. Both types can reposition products onto a parallel line. The Extenda pusher type can run fifty cartons per minute and offers space-saving functionality due to its design.

Deflector arms

Deflector arms, which use a swing arm or powered arm to divert conveyed loads, are another lower speed option. As a carton or tote enters the zone an arm swings to divert the product and send it to another angle in a sortation or accumulation application. Convergers, which are sometimes called mergers, move products from one conveyor to another.

Pushers are faster than deflector arms but may cause product damage due to their speed. It’s best to understand the fragility of your load before choosing an option of this kind.

Ball transfers

Ball transfers are a gravity/manual transfer method that can be built into an effective conveyor system.

Moderate speed solutions

When more speed is required than the slower options, there are a number of solutions. Pop-up sorters are an excellent method for sorting products. They are simple, effective and relatively fast transfer equipment that utilize wheels or rollers to “pop” up beneath a conveyed item, lift it, and move it toward its destination.

Pop-up timing belt transfers are used for transfer to parallel conveyor lines. These are cost-efficient and effective transfers for zone picking applications. They were utilized for exactly this purpose by Educational Development Corporation.  They gently lift and roll conveyed lines perpendicular to the conveyor and onto another line.

For more information on these options (and many others) contact us today.

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Scott Stone is Cisco-Eagle's Vice President of Marketing with more than thirty years of experience in material handling, warehousing and industrial operations. His work is published in multiple industry journals an websites on a variety of warehousing topics. He writes about automation, warehousing, safety, manufacturing and other areas of concern for industrial operations and those who operate them.

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