Shared Hospital Services – Portsmouth, VA

Automated Sort-On-Rail System

An automated sort-on-rail system significantly reduces labor and improves operations over an existing manual material handling system.


Shared Hospital Services (SHS) in Portsmouth, VA, operated a completely manual handling system for soiled and clean linens. Operators sorted incoming goods into carts, which were manually transported and loaded into processing machinery. After processing, goods were unloaded into carts again, and manually delivered to finishing equipment. SHS determined that updates were necessary.


SHS wanted to automate their manual system to improve the flow of goods and eliminate labor.


Shared Hospital Services contracted with Softrol Systems, Inc., and QI Systems to provide an automated sort-on-rail system, soil storage system, and clean distribution system (the engineering staff and assets of QI Systems were later acquired by Softrol, bringing all rail system production – controls and hardware – in-house). Labor was reduced, floor space was cleared, and processing was facilitated through automation.

Project Details:

Soiled goods were received and unloaded onto a conveyor which delivered items to the sort platform. Softrol and QI installed a 24-station sort-on-rail system, which enables operators to load the slings directly from their sorting stations – the weight of slings are monitored by the control system so that they are automatically taken away when the appropriate weight is reached for loading the processing machinery, and a new empty bag is brought to the station. Slings were stored on seven overhead storage rails before being automatically delivered to two tunnel washers and several conventional machines, thus eliminating the carts previously stored and manually handled, freeing floor space and reducing labor. After processing through the wash equipment, goods are lifted into a clean storage buffer area prior to finishing equipment, significantly reducing the carts necessary and freeing floor space. SHS took advantage of the advanced technology available from Softrol and QI to make use of the three-dimensional space in the plant and automate the delivery of product to their various processes, reducing labor in all areas of the operation.

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