West Point Stevens Finds Totes Final Piece Of Automation Puzzle

Materials HandlingBy Cosby W. Woodruff, Assistant Editor WestPoint Stevens Finds Totes Final Piece Of Automation PuzzleContainers allow Clemson plant to improve quality, cut costs. 

WestPoint Stevens sprawling Clemson (S.C.) complex is one of the largest and most diverse operations in the companys portfolio. Inside the walls of the four plants that make up the Complex, some 2,000 associates perform functions from opening bales of raw fibers to shipping finished bedding products that are complete with bar codes for the appropriate retail outlet.Like other major textile operations, WestPoint Stevens automated the Clemson Complex in recent years, and this presented specific problems for various departments.At Clemson Finishing Plant, one of the big automation needs was the ability to dispense dye ingredients from standard containers via an automated system. Clemson Finishing Plant Manager Billy Harris says the company spent a year working out a system of totes that allows the Bespoke automated dyehouse equipment to dispense just what a dye batch needs.The WestPoint Stevens team came up with a series of 64 fixed totescalled bottom toteseach with necessary plumbing, sensors and pumps. These stainless-steel fixtures hold the key ingredients for dyes and printing inks that go into WestPoint Stevens sheeting.Each bottom tote has a frame to support a top tote. The top tote is a standard off-the-shelf container that a chemical supplier ships full of a dye, pigment or other chemical. When the Bespoke system alerts the operator that one chemical is low in the bottom tote, the operator moves that tote, hooks up a tube to the top tote and lets gravity refill the bottom tote. When the top tote is empty, the operator simply replaces it with another one and the empty tote ships back to the chemical supplier.WestPoint Stevens rejected using the suppliers totes as the main container for several reasons. Installing the pumps, plumbing and monitoring equipment was not feasible on the supplier totes, which sometimes are little more than a plastic container on a wooden pallet with an aluminum frame.WestPoint Stevens was looking for something more permanent. So a company team drew a sketch of what would work and passed it on to Hoover Materials Handling Group, which developed what the company now uses.Requirements included a sloped bottom and no sharp corners where dyes may settle, then break loose, causing specks or uneven dyeing. The bottom tanks also needed to be a standard size, and market totes vary slightly from company to company.”There is no such thing as a standard tote,” Harris says. “We had to have a tote that was standardized.”Clemson Finishing Plants storage system allows its automated dye facility to do its job of anticipating what color will be required for the next run, locating chemicals needed to make it, gathering those chemicals from the totes, mixing the color and sending it to the dye pad.This saves the company money in several ways. WestPoint Stevens enjoys labor savings as associates no longer mix dyes by hand, and there is a quality gain. And because the machine only mixes what is needed, there is less waste. Clemson Finishing also gets productivity gains by being able to deliver the dye when it is needed.The plant no longer runs patches – the old way of ascertaining that a dye was the correct color. Now, the machine mixes the dye, it is checked against a prior sample, and the batch of material is dyed. Color changes can be achieved within 20 minutes.Clemsons fabric ranges 120- to 310-count sheeting, and it goes to Clemson Finishing Plant, along with fabric from WestPoint Stevens five other sheeting plants. Clemson Finishing Plant dyes in up to 400 colors, with more than 300 active at any time.

Chemicals shipped in manufacturers’ totes drain into WestPoint Stevens’ totes through a connecting tube.

Totes line the floor at WestPoint Stevens Clemson (S.C.) plant. The containers store chemicals used in dyeing and finishing.November 2001