Space-saving solution for outbound sorting at Zalando in Erfurt
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Space-saving solution for outbound sorting at Zalando in Erfurt


Ferag AG has scored with a new flexible sorting solution for use in shipping at Zalando, with the Swiss materials handling specialist installing a space-saving Denisort Compact system at the Zalando logistics centre in Erfurt. The sorting capacity of this system is impressive, with the innovative tilting tray sorter able to process up to 4800 units of all shapes and sizes for shipment every hour. The system is able to sort both the typical Zalando boxes and also polybags made from recycled plastic, which are used increasingly for packaging textiles.

More and more people are shopping on the Internet, with over 65% of clothing and shoes now purchased online in Germany. One of the big winners here is Zalando, which has grown rapidly into Europe’s leading online platform for fashion and lifestyle since its foundation in Berlin in 2008. As a result of the coronavirus, business at Zalando saw a further boom in 2020. In the second quarter of 2020 alone, sales increased by 27% compared to the previous year. This situation is reflected in the logistics centres at the rapidly expanding company. The processes here have to be constantly adjusted in order to meet the company’s performance promises to its customers to the letter. According to Zalando itself, the company also strives to ensure that its workstations are as comfortable as possible through the automation of routines and processes, for example. This is also the case at the 120,000-square-metre logistics hub in Erfurt in the German state of Thuringia. Although only built in 2012, the centre is already one of the oldest Zalando sites. A few months ago, the logistics planners at the online retailer started looking for a solution that would allow sorting to additional shipping destinations in outbound business – and quickly found what they wanted at Ferag. This was no surprise, as the Swiss materials handling specialist had already made a name for itself at Zalando by supplying systems for the automatic disposal of used cardboard boxes. One of these systems has also been running flawlessly in Erfurt for several years now.

Optimum space utilization and scalability absolutely essential

As things turned out, the specifications from Zalando for the new sorting system ended up being very ambitious. Ultimately, the Denisort Compact system – which was developed specially by Ferag for applications in mail-order business – met all the criteria from the logistics planners and proved the best solution. The key requirements for the system were efficient utilization of the available space, the flexibility of the system, and the expansion possibilities. In existing buildings such as in Erfurt, this brought with it major challenges from the outset. However, thanks to its modular design – which uses any combination of standard segments and offers outstanding flexibility in terms of layout – the Denisort Compact system overcame this hurdle with aplomb. This was also the case for another point that was given the highest priority by the logistics planners at Zalando: the system had to be scalable without any major outlay in order to be prepared for future challenges. The consistently implemented modular system from the Ferag engineers once again showed what it was made of here. The fully automatic vertical sorter from Switzerland’s Zürcher Oberland can not only be set up rapidly, but can also be adapted easily to changing processes or increased throughput. Customers can choose from the outset how many standard modules they want. And should the user’s needs grow, a Denisort Compact system can be extended without any problems and any desired elements retrofitted at short notice. The short delivery and installation times resulting from the standardization and modular design give the system a decisive advantage over standard sorting systems.

Sorting of a wide variety of boxes and polybags

In addition to scalability and as small a footprint as possible, the decision makers at Zalando also had another essential requirement: the sorting system had to be able to handle both the normal Zalando boxes and also shipping envelopes and polybags, which are made of 80% recycled material at Zalando. Usually, a mixture of different packaging formats with their own feel, structure and dimensions creates major problems for the conveyor technology. However, Ferag took the trays that tilt to either side in the Denisort Compact system and optimized them for handling polybags and all kinds of parcels, thus eliminating the risk of damage that can occasionally occur in such cases. As a result, the system from Switzerland was also able to fulfil this requirement with ease. The trays used at Zalando are able to receive items with widely varying geometries – and thus virtually all packaging types – and transport them safely. The only limitation is the maximum weight the tray is able to carry, although this is still an impressive 15 kilograms.

Automatic control of 18 sorting destinations

The Denisort Compact system commissioned at Zalando in the spring of 2020 is 31 metres long. It is used in outbound business for the fine sorting of labelled articles to different shipping destinations, such as by country or postcode. The sorter is equipped with 18 chutes for the targeted ejection of items. In addition to these end stations, there are also two NOK and overflow sections where items with incorrect or illegible labels are sent. The chutes were arranged according to the customer’s wishes, thus enabling optimal handling during the removal and further processing of the packages. The sorter is currently supplied and loaded manually. In the long term, Zalando plans to have the goods fed into the Ferag system via an automatic feeder belt. The staff place the prepared, labelled packages into the trays on the sorter. Following automatic scanning and assignment of the destination, the packages are then ejected via the corresponding chutes. From here, they are removed by a member of staff and stacked on pallets, which are then transported to the outbound gates using forklift trucks and loaded into the lorries.

Test passed with flying colours – next system coming soon

The Denisort Compact line – which is able to sort up to 4800 units per hour – is extremely quiet in operation, which meant it was quickly met with the acceptance of the Zalando staff working in the immediate vicinity. This was also helped by the foil wrapping on the sorter, which was attached by Ferag in line with the corporate design at Zalando. At the same time, the system proved incredibly reliable right from the outset. Initial operation started during the time when order numbers – and thus deliveries – on the online platform rocketed due to the coronavirus. In other words, the system had to work at full capacity almost immediately. The system passed this test with flying colours – so much so that Zalando immediately purchased a virtually identical system from Ferag for its distribution centre in Mönchengladbach.