Overhead sorting conveyor automatizing distribution processes at Peerless Clothing
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Overhead sorting conveyor automatizing distribution processes at Peerless Clothing


Skyfall, the particularly efficient overhead conveyor system of Ferag AG, is increasingly becoming the preferred solution when it comes to order fulfilment in the clothing industry. The latest project of the Swiss material handling specialist in this range pertains to the distribution center of Peerless Clothing in St. Albans, Vermont (USA). With over 67,500 shuttle hangers for garments on hanger (GOH), a primary buffer for 60,000 items and a matrix sorter for 6,000 units per hour, the Skyfall system installed at the centre sets new benchmarks in fashion logistics. It contributes significantly to the automation of the distribution process thus accelerating throughput rates and reducing warehousing costs.

Fashion has always been a seasonal industry, with cycles also becoming increasingly shorter at the same time. For fashion retailers, this means that they have to sell their goods as quickly as possible in order to make space for new stock, including with the help of rebates and other special offers where necessary. Ideally, new goods should come into the shop through one door and then leave it immediately through another door. Fashion manufacturers such as Peerless Clothing have to take this special aspect of the branch into consideration if they want to ensure long-term success and further growth. As a result, the largest producer of clothing for men and boys in North America attaches great importance to a logistics system that works perfectly and is dynamic in all respects.

Skyfall providing distribution at a fast pace but with no mistakes

Built in 1994, the distribution centre in St. Albans, Vermont (USA) plays a key role in the distribution processes at the Montreal-based company. From here, Peerless Clothing supplies its most important market, namely major department stores and retailers across the USA. Just in time for the 100th birthday of Peerless Clothing, a range of measures were carried out in St. Albans under the direction of system integrator SDI Systems using Skyfall technology from the Swiss material handling specialist Ferag. As a result, St. Albans has now seen both added automation and the launch of a conveyor system providing distribution at a fast pace but with no mistakes, making it one of the world’s most state-of-the-art logistics centres in the fashion industry. Another highlight of the Swiss technology: Skyfall can manage any type of hangers from different sources. At Peerless Clothing it handles exclusively garments on hangers, such as trousers, jackets and suits being combined according to the order and then being sorted and picked depending on their destinations. The outgoing goods are also sequenced in exactly the order they are presented afterwards on the racks at the customer’s shop.

Matrix sorter as highlight and core element

The logistics hub in St. Albans has a storage capacity of over 3.8 million items. As the preferred partner of SDI, Ferag put the Skyfall installation into operation here one year ago as part of the fourth construction phase. The decisive factor in winning the contract: "Our system immediately convinced those responsible at Peerless Clothing. Chief engineer Jean-Francois Désy, the initiator of the project, particularly liked our high-performance matrix sorter, which not only groups the goods according to their destination with highest precision, but also sequences them appropriately”, emphasizes Daniel Sidler, the sales agent responsible for supervising the project at Ferag. The matrix sorter processing up to 6,000 items per hour by separating them into small batches of 216 units in an automatic steady flow is a core element of the installation built by the Swiss specialists. Thus, it completely automates order fulfilment in St. Albans. Among other features, the sorter is responsible for the goods arriving at the shop in the correct order. However, this is not the only highlight of the Skyfall lines installed in St. Albans – the other system components are also the ultimate when it comes to efficient conveyor technology. This is reflected in a number of clever details. For example, the switches installed in the Skyfall overhead conveyor system do not require their own electric drives as the SkyTrain – which transports items between areas – is used to power the switches. This in turn increases the energy efficiency of the whole system and results in virtually no maintenance being required.

Fully automatic order fulfilment process

After delivery via truck from just over the border in Canada, the goods are stored for a short time. As soon as they are called as part of a wave they are sent to one of three Skyfall infeed stations, currently on rods installed overhead, and pulled by hand. These stations are distributed across three of the five floors in the building (levels two to four). What’s special is that the loading of the Ferag system (i.e. when the goods are put on hangers) is completely autonomous. Each Skyfall carrier is then used to transport one specific garment. To do this, they must be singled out reliably with the help of a horizontal spiral. Anyone watching this process in action is immediately impressed by just how quickly and smoothly everything happens. No less impressive is the performance of the three fully automatic loading points, with each station achieving over 3500 units (garments on hanger) per hour. Before the goods fed into the Skyfall lines are sent on the 1400-meter-long circulation conveyor towards the primary buffer, they pass through a scanner that records and checks all of the data that is relevant for tracking purposes. The primary buffer or 3D buffer that fills the wing of the hall has a capacity of 60,000 units, which is around the volume seen in a single day. Each product collected in a wave from one of the warehouse sections is stored here temporarily. After this, the product is called according to the order, fed into the subwave buffer for initial separation and then sent on to the matrix sorter on the fifth floor. After sorting and sequencing are complete, the product is sent back down to the ground floor via the circulation conveyor. Here, three automatic unloading and multiple packing stations are ready and waiting to prepare the goods for loading onto the truck. But that’s not all: depending on the order, the garments make stops on the way down where they are assigned additional product options (value added services).

“Working with Ferag was a very constructive experience. They are very professional and understand their customer’s needs. Their goal is to respond or exceed our expectation! The quality of their products is also impressive. This new sortation system will save time and money to Peerless. It eliminates most of our issues we were facing with others GOH sortation systems. It could also be flexible to accommodate the replenishment orders and e-commerce.” - Jean-François Désy, Chief Engineer, Peerless-Clothing.

Strategic partnership

The project in St. Albans was not the first intralogistics solution jointly developed and implemented by SDI and Ferag for a customer in North America. The strategic partnership between the two companies goes back to 2016. It started when SDI became aware of the many benefits of Skyfall technology during an upgrade of the central warehouse facility at Stage Stores in Jacksonville, Texas. “We were pleased to discover that we could completely rely on the team from Switzerland and their innovative systems. Since then, both companies have become close friends,” explains SDI CEO Krish Nathan, who headed up the project in St. Albans personally. He is already looking forward to the next joint project, which will take place at Dillard’s in Little Rock, Arkansas (USA).

Peerless Clothing – market leader in clothing for men and boys in North America

With over 2000 employees, Peerless Clothing is one of the largest manufacturers of outerwear for men and boys in North America. Headquartered in Montreal in the Canadian province of Quebec, the company manufactures clothing for fashion labels including Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, DKNY and Michael Kors. Another area of business is found in the production of made-to-measure suits, jackets and trousers. Peerless Clothing not only supplies major department stores and retailers in big American cities, but also provides the e-commerce backend for many of its customers.