The death of the high speed sorter

1 December 2015

United Kingdom

Ed Brindley

Glory Global


The annual ICCOS Americas event is almost upon us, but a glance at the agenda has given me a sense of déjà vu. One of the breakout topics is entitled “The Death of the High Speed Sorter” – precisely the topic I have covered previously at the same event in 2012 and 2014.

One of the main tasks of any consultant is to challenge and add value. With this in mind I decided to run the session as a debate rather than subject participants to yet more PowerPoint. As they arrived, the audience was asked to move to a seat on the left if they agreed with the statement that the high speed sorter was dead and to the right if they did not. At this point 90% sat on the right side, disagreeing with my motion.

As you can imagine the people on the left, who agreed that high speed sorters were history, were mainly from manufacturers of desktop medium speed sorters! A healthy debate then continued with the right trying to convince the left. Ironically those participants who manufacture high speed sorters are now also entering the market for low cost desktop machines. What a difference 18 months makes!

Let me add some background. There was a time when high speed sorting machines costing hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars were the only way to deliver the performance required in high volume banknote sorting operations. Smaller machines simply did not have the processing power required to deliver advanced counterfeit detection, fitness sorting or a myriad of other tasks required to determine if a banknote was fit for recirculation. Fast forward to today, and the remorseless advances in technology have changed the game. Advanced detection is available at a cost unthinkable even just a few years ago, and has shrunk in size to allow it to be fitted to a new generation of desktop machines. There is still a market for high speed sorters for sure, but these days it is mostly in the rarefied atmosphere of the Central Bank.

This was reinforced in the workshop when I asked the audience to consider a revised title - “The Death of the Commercial Bank High Speed Sorter”. Now there was audience movement as a number of people, particularly those from the CIT and commercial bank cash centres, moved from the right to the left agreeing that, in this context, the role of the high speed sorter was dwindling. To be honest I had a feeling, and was hoping, that this migration would happen, for my own view is that commercial banks no longer get efficiency and effectiveness from high speed machines. Those two words “efficiency” and “effectiveness” mean completely different things. Efficiency is doing things right, whereas effectiveness is doing the right thing. Many fads come and go, and are jumped on for effectiveness as opposed to efficiency in cash centre operations. Thus, the audience representation was 60% still on the right disagreeing with me but 40% had moved to the left – the numbers thinking that high speed machines were dead had increased but the majority still believed they had legs.

The debate continued with the left trying to bring back those now sitting on the right, and the right trying to convince the left. The word “high” as in “high speed” was discussed as these days the perception is that the desktop sorters are slower. The reality is that new desktop models such as the Glory UW700 12/16-pocket machine are faster than older competitors. But machine speed is often irrelevant bar flexing your muscles on a product datasheet. Instead it is the efficiency and effectiveness of the operation (hey there are those words again!), as there is no point in having sports car speeds if you are always stopping and starting! And we have to remember that humans operate these machines and their skill drives the real effectiveness. Typically a high speed sorter has 2 or 3 operators; one to fill the input and rejects at one end and another to handle the pocket outputs. A good, well designed desktop sorter with the input in the middle of the machine, and not at one end, can be operated fully by a single operator. And absolute peak throughput can be maintained with two operators, one literally being to keep the input filled as it is so fast!

Naturally I threw in topics such as high speed sorter capex, real end-to-end total cost of ownership, today’s detector capabilities, contingency offered by multiple desktop machines, functionality, etc. So not only faster, also significantly lower cost and functionality the same as high speed, and for the price of a single high speed machine you could buy several desktop machines with the same sorting profiles that then offer contingency.

A few more people agreed with me and moved from right to left to sit with those that had decided high speed machines have no future…but I needed more. I brought into the debate a banknote detector specialist so we could see how good these desktop machine were compared to the expensive high speed. Of course all machine transports, detectors and the 1’s & 0’s of the detector software are different, but it transpired that some high speed machines have the note obscured by belts and their detector platform is now over 15 years old! Naturally we all assume that a $500k+ machine is going to have better resolution of detection than a $50k desktop machine, but the reality is that they do not. Even things like on-line banders and shredders can now be fitted to desktop sorters so the functionality gap is closing fast and, I would argue, is not a factor for the vast majority of commercial operations. A few more people were persuaded to move to the left but the session was now ending and it was time to count the numbers on each side of the debate.

I have run many breakout sessions over the years but this topic has been one of the best for stimulating a healthy debate and energising the participants. I didn’t get as many people on the right as I would have expected but this was largely due to the high number of central bankers in the audience – 57% voted that there was still life in the high speed sorter. Among the commercial banks and CITs however the opinion was clear – they were only considering desktop machines and are very excited about the new technologies such as serial number reading that will allow them to introduce higher levels of service for their customers at an affordable price.

Death of the High Speed Sorter? Well depending on your perspective it’s not dead yet, but we may soon need to call the doctor!

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