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Automated garment sortation on a budget

An automated sortation system from logistics systems integrator SDI Greenstone has enabled Spanish childrenswear company Tutto Piccolo to achieve a healthy increase in throughput at its distribution centre in Alcoy, near Alicante.

Tutto Piccolo already had an automated sortation system for hanging garments but order assembly for boxed items was undertaken manually, with pickers able to handle only one customer's order at a time. With the SDI Greenstone system Tutto Piccolo can now sort up to 50 orders simultaneously. The company needed this extra capacity, improved flexibility and greater speed of order fulfilment, to keep pace with continuing growth in business and an expansion of its core ranges of childrens' clothes and accessories. While a move to automation was the obvious answer, the capital expenditure budget was limited.

SDI Greenstone's solution was to supply a second-hand sortation system, previously used for a garment distribution centre in France which had recently upgraded its operations. The sorter was shipped in component form to Spain and re-engineered to meet Tutto Piccolo's precise requirements, including the installation of bespoke software. It took SDI Greenstone's engineers just ten days to install the sorter at the Alcoy distribution centre and within a month the system was fully operational.

The SDI Greenstone system comprises a 25m-long oblong rotating carousel equipped with steel trays. Arranged around the carousel are 50 drop zones, which are allocated, as required, to individual customers.

Items are picked into boxes, from garments hanging on rails (in some instances using the hanging garment sorter) or from ready-packed consignments. These boxes are then transferred to the sorter and loaded onto any of three induct stations, where the bar codes on the boxes are read by an automatic in-line scanner, communicating with SDI´s Warehouse Sortation System (WSS) The cartons are then loaded one by one into the individual trays.

As the goods pass round the system the WSS sends signals to sorter's PLC to activate solenoids that tilt the trays as they pass over the required drop-stations, which are allocated, in each sorting wave, to specific customers. Accumulated boxes are then transferred by conveyor from the sorter to the despatch area for onward delivery.

Tutto Piccolo, which is privately owned and still manufacturers most of its garments in the area around Alcoy, has more than 3,000 customers, the vast majority of whom are small independent traders. Serving such a customer base inevitably involves handling a large number of orders, varying in size.

Combined with the substantial expansion of each of Tutto Piccolo's three separately-branded product ranges, and the fluctuations in throughput caused by changing seasonal demand and various special promotions, efficient and accurate order assembly was vital in maintaining the company's service to its customers.

Tutto Piccolo's Director and co-founder Rafael Mataix Moltó explains: “With our old manual system we could only pick goods for one customer at a time; the SDI Greenstone machine can now sort for 50 customers in one pass. This has greatly speeded-up the order assembly operation, and given us much improved flexibility. We can now deliver to customers as and when they demand; most orders are delivered within less than 48 hours.

“When looking for a sortation system we conducted a survey of the industry in Europe, and found that SDI Greenstone had all the experience and expertise we required. Although our budget was limited, this wasn't a problem for SDI Greenstone; the refurbished sortation system was the perfect solution.”

Tutto Piccolo is currently sorting 40,000 items per day on the SDI Greenstone system. At peak periods – during major promotions for example – the company expects the system to be handling up to 100,000 units per day.

Gordon Smith,
Managing Director
SDI Greenstone
Tel: 01788 574666
Fax: 01788 574696
e-mail: gordon_smith@sdigreenstone.com

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