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Somerset-based Clark Shoes can hold up to three million pairs of shoes in its UK Distribution Centre (DC) in Street. It handles around 80,000 pairs of shoes, both in and out of the warehouse daily, with stock arriving from manufacturing plants in Europe, the Far East and Brazil and its own plants in the UK. The company’s busiest period, annually, is the “back to school” sales peak during August and September.

The successful tracking of around 10,000 packs per day at despatch was becoming an issue due to the age of the existing hardware. Clarks sought advice on how best to improve its situation by having a system that was 100% reliable. It approached DataScan Systems, the Auto ID specialist, for guidance and to recommend a solution to the problem.

The main requirements for Clarks were to replace the old obsolete scanning equipment, to reduce the number of ‘no-reads’ and to increase the output levels through their despatch section. DataScan’s brief was two-fold and included supplying a cost-effective barcode system to replace an existing installation, which had been in operation for some 19 years.

Clarks 41,850 sq m distribution centre has four despatch conveyors, manufactured by Newlands, and each required upgrading. The project replaced all the original barcode readers with LS6100 fixed Position Bar Code Readers connected to DP1100 decoder units. DataScan worked along side Clarks’ technical team during all of the installation to ensure exact reading accuracy. The barcodes are actually read through shrink-wrap packaging at the point of despatch. The project also included the development of a PC-based Despatch Control and tracking system to enable successful monitoring of the despatch of around 80,000 pairs of shoes each day.

The DataScan team set to work with the IT department at Clarks and developed a working model of its solution to Clarks’ requirements. The system had to interface both with the LS6100 Bar Code readers and Clarks’ own ‘Data General’ Server, handling all of Clarks processing and despatched orders from the Street site, in addition to controlling the four despatch conveyors. In addition the new system had to be easy to use, MS Windows-based and very visual to the operators.

Network connections

The new screen layout now has a whole new range of options for the operator including load information, product counts, barcode details, start and stop times for the loads. The system allows loads to be transferred from one conveyor to another. This makes use of Clarks’ Ethernet LAN network linking each of the four-despatch lane PCs to the DataScan Despatch server. The server manages the data between each of the despatch conveyors and the Clarks ‘Data General’ host system.

The software also incorporates full redundancy capability. If network connections are lost the ‘DataScan Despatch System’ will automatically run locally to each conveyor, and then fully back up to the ‘Data General’ once the connection has been restored.

The overall Clarks distribution centre process begins with receipt of intake units (normally cartons containing a number of individual shoeboxes) being placed on one of four conveyor belts within its ‘goods-in’ section. Cartons are scanned using LS6100 Datalogic scanners and then directed to the appropriate storage area within the DC. The data information collected is then sent to the ‘Data General’ host via a PC.

To improve order-picking efficiency Clarks uses a “bulk-pick system”. Individual shoeboxes are picked and subsequently directed to the box sortation area. The boxes are fed initially in to a 20-lane sorter, which uses a single LS6100 scanner to read the box-end barcodes. At this point no-reads, mis-sorts and incorrectly picked boxes are automatically sorted, taken out of the process and corrected where appropriate.

Once the initial sort is complete boxes are fed on to a conveyor that takes them to a two-layered automated box sorter system which sorts the boxes down to individual customer requirements across 100 chutes.

‘Moving floats’ are directed around the warehouse on a single track throughout the whole process. Floats are automatically guided to their destination whether this is for storage or to the box sortation area. Once the box sortation is complete individual shoeboxes making up customer orders are directed to the shrink-wrapping area, where the despatch label with barcode is affixed to the inside of the pack. Shrink-wrapped packs are then automatically sorted to the appropriate despatch conveyor where they are controlled by the new DataScan Despatch System.

Peter Manley, IT project manager at Clarks, comments: “We have found the new scanners to be more tolerant than the old ones with a higher good read rate. Together with the DataScan team we have transformed our despatch area, with little interference to our operation. The new system is easier to use for our despatch teams, and provides easy access to key details about vehicle load data at despatch and packs rejected. The new system was delivered within the agreed budget.”

DataScan is well known to Clarks as its managing director, Paul Mason, had personally installed many of the original barcode systems several years ago. Mason says: “I feel our ‘Plan-Do-Evaluate’ methodology greatly assisted the smooth installation of this project. It was a great honour to be asked back to Clarks to offer advice and in turn implement our system. I am very pleased with the success of the installation, mainly due to the great interaction between our respective teams.” n

Datascan is one of several data capture providers that is participating at Logistics Link 2004, being held on February 3 and 4, 2004 at Sandown Park, Esher, Surrey. For further information contact Richard Milbourn on 0208 661 1160 or visit www.logisticslink.co.uk

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