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LB Foster completes automation project to expand fashion returns for Clipper

The ever-increasing success of online fashion shopping has led to a demand for greater capacity for processing returns at Clipper’s Selby distribution centre. Once the decision was taken to expand the operation, Leicester based LB Foster Materials Handling was selected as principal contractor.

The two-tier installation is situated in a 60,000 sq ft area. As it is located underneath a mezzanine floor, significant height restrictions had to be overcome. The solution includes conveyors for totes with a dunnage system running directly above it, together with 108 work benches which are positioned alongside the conveyors.

Combined with the original returns processing centre located at the Selby site, Clipper can now handle up to 850,000 returns a week at this facility, which operates as part of the Clipper ‘Boomerang™’ returns solution.

Paul Heaton is the Head of Regional Operations for Clipper; he comments, "We invited three companies to tender for this project. It was an intense process but LB Foster came out on top for a number of reasons – we’ve used them before so we know their solutions work and their quote was competitive.

"In the past we’ve had a problem with waste cardboard, however, the low level dunnage solution that LB Foster designed and installed as part of this project has proved to be a real benefit to us. The payback period for the dunnage system is just 12 months so it has cut our costs. We’ve also been able to reduce the amount of labour we use on waste cardboard and actually generate some income for our customer."

The returns, which are made up of garments, footwear and accessories, are sorted into black and red totes. The black totes carry product that is being sent back into stock whilst product in the red totes requires some rework. A colour sensor above the conveyor system sends the black totes down one of three spurs to the dispatch area and the red totes accumulate in the reprocessing section.

The Clipper operatives place all of the waste cardboard onto the dunnage belts which run over the top of the tote conveyors beneath the mezzanine floor. The belts all converge onto the main dunnage conveyor which, when clear of the mezzanine, takes the waste up an incline belt to a higher level conveyor. This transports the waste for recycling through the wall to a compactor outside.

Heaton concludes by saying, "The whole project was completed on time and in budget. This is testament to LB Foster’s project management expertise as the timescales we had imposed on the scheme were tight.

"They appointed an onsite project manager who worked very closely with us to manage the whole venture with three key elements – the conveyor system, the electrics and the data. The project manager was always available and their response to our needs and any issues which arose was immediate."

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