Blog post by Ryan Goad, Controls Engineer
Patti Engineering has experience in data handling (specifically SQL databases) and has successfully used this experience to develop databases that are integrated and utilized within sortation systems, and we also have experience retrofitting existing systems to meet the new/current needs. This project was a retrofit of an existing system.
The customer was upgrading their Warehouse Management System for their distribution center and needed to update the sortation process as well as the system that handles the data for these sorters. The new data handling system also needed to interact with the WM System to track garments through the new sortation system.
We designed and developed a new Garment On Hanger (GOH) database on a dedicated server to handle all of the data that is associated with these two garment sorters. This database houses all of the data surrounding the garments, from each individual garment’s identification number to the trolley in which that garment will be coming in on, the location that it is destined for, and the trolleys that it is leaving on. This information is communicated back and forth between the Patti System and the WM system using specific text files containing the data. To read and write these files, we developed multiple different VB.net services that will read or write each file line by line to correctly transfer the information into or out of the different tables within the GOH database. This GOH database then communicates to two separate sorters, one that sorts the garments into HUBs (HUBs have stores associated with them where a garment will eventually end up) and one that sorts the already HUB sorted garments into the correct stores within said HUB.
The HUB sorter was modified from a batch-oriented sortation process to more of a continuous sorting process. To explain, there is a continuous stream of trolleys filled with garments entering the system as operators are also scanning individual garments off the sorter and onto new trolleys using a handheld scanner. This change within the HUB sorter was effectively a retrofit of the existing sortation system, which is controlled by VLC, to meet the new needs of the customer. This also included integrating a new, fixed barcode scanner that scans the incoming trolleys so that the server on the sorter could utilize the server link back to the GOH to pull down the relevant garment information locally for VLC to utilize during the sortation process. The link between the two servers is the key to allowing the data to flow freely between the two servers while also keeping only the necessary data locally on the HUB sorter.
The above-mentioned scanners are a Wavelink client for a Wavelink server that is hosted on the GOH server. The program that is run on the Wavelink server was developed in VB6, and is used to pack garments off the HUB sorter and onto intermediate trolleys, which are then stored in holding areas waiting to go to the store sorter.
The Store sorter was not changed, but the GOH server sends and receives batch files to Store sorter. When a store sort is complete, it will also print the labels for the exiting trolleys using one of the aforementioned VB.net services.
We also developed a web interface using PHP and stored procedures within SQL 2012 that allows for tracking of garments throughout the process as well as the creation of batch files for the store sorter. This web interface was developed totally from scratch.
The new system allows for a more continuous flow of garments through the distribution center as well as a way to track garments through the system using the web interface. Because we retrofitted the HUB sorter and completely utilized the existing Store sorter, we did not have to purchase very much hardware for this project. Also, the new GOH server seamlessly interacts with the new WM System that was implemented on their end at the same time.