BhS’ 55,750sq m national distribution centre at Atherstone, which is operated by Exel, has had its automated sortation system upgraded to simplify it and prolong its working life. The work, carried out by SDI Greenstone, centred on the installation’s control protocols.
The automated hanging garment system was installed several years ago by SDI Greenstone. It carries trolleys holding sets of garments on hangers through storage, sortation and despatch – the distribution centre handles 30,000 sets daily.
Bob Burrell, site engineering and development manager for Exel, comments: “Capacity, volume or speed were not the issue. What we were concerned with was the currency of the installation’s control system.”
A central control computer runs the entire installation, governing the movement – driven by in-line scanners reading barcodes – of the trolley sets from goods-in through storage, into sortation and out to despatch. While the system has been working without any problems, says Burrell, it was “in increasing danger of becoming unsupportable. We couldn’t run the risks posed by one ‘global’ piece of equipment controlling the entire system”.
SDI Greenstone separated the systems controlling the transport / storage and sortation functions. This means that the flow of garment sets from goods-in into the storage lanes and up to the pre-sort induction point is governed by a new PC-based programmable logic controller system. The sortation system is now controlled by a separate computer which batches goods into specific store orders, and then sorts them into different lanes for delivery to the despatch bay.
The system has four sorters which batch the products by store, and two shipping sorters directing the goods to the appropriate despatch bays. Each store sorter was modified in sequence, pairing them with the shipping sorters, so that at any one time during the changeover three of the store sorters and at least one shipping sorter were always kept operating.
Burrell says: “The new arrangement effectively future-proofs the system. It also imparts much greater flexibility, enabling us to benefit to upgrade very easily to accommodate the changing needs of BhS’ business and to embrace the latest technology as it becomes available.”