FRC Group (Bulky Bob’s)

The FRC Group was looking for a control systems company that could design, build and supply a control system for a ‘first of a kind’ automated mattress cleaner.
The Company

The FRC Group is a collective of social enterprises with a mission to ‘End Furniture Poverty’. FRC Group has nearly 30 years of experience in providing furniture, both new and pre-loved, to people in need. Reducing and ultimately ending Furniture Poverty is at the heart of everything that FRC Group does.

The FRC Group operates several social enterprises, such as:

What do Bulky Bob’s specialize in?

Bulky Bob’s (created in 2000 by FRC Group) is a Liverpool social enterprise and charity. Bulky Bob’s has held the bulky household waste collection service with Liverpool City Council since its creation.

They utilise the contract with the Council to obtain good quality pre-loved furniture to give away to people in need, working with a wide network of referral agencies, from charities to support groups. Bulky Bob’s also runs Bulky Bob’s Furniture World, a Liverpool shop selling pre-loved furniture at low prices.

“The UK threw away more than 7,000,000 mattresses in 2017, the vast majority of which went straight to landfill, massively impacting upon the environment.” – Bulky Bob’s on YouTube.

As part of their mission to ‘End Furniture Poverty’, FRC Group had already commenced a manual mattress cleaning program to treat unwanted, great-quality mattresses which were very time and labour intensive.

As an innovative company, they wanted to develop the optimum solution to deliver high-quality, clean, and fresh mattresses to those most in need. The FRC Group designed and developed the world’s first automated mattress UltraClean machine.

FRC Group Bulky Bobs2 Blanklinebreaker 01
The world’s first UltraClean Mattress Cleaning Machine

The automated UltraClean machine line processes up to 20 mattresses per hour, meaning huge volumes of mattresses can be given a new and extended life.

At the heart of the solution is the UltraClean seven-stage process. The process ensures high-quality, pre-loved mattresses, which may have been destined for landfill or broken down into parts for recycling, are UltraCleaned to remove:

  • Odours
  • Stains
  • Bacteria
  • Viruses
  • Mould
  • Mildew
  • Bed bugs and fleas

Every mattress reused saves 79.5 kg of CO2, equivalent to taking 14 cars off the road for a day. Bulky Bob’s first ‘UltraClean’ machine has been affectionately named “Mattilda”.

“We are delighted to introduce our UltraClean Machine. This is the first of its kind and will make such a huge difference in our mission to ‘End Furniture Poverty’. Those in need will receive high-quality mattresses, and at the same time this will have a positive impact on the environment, as disposal or recycling is not needed.” – Shaun Doran, CEO of FRC Group.

Discover more about the World’s First UltraClean Mattress Machine, here.

The Problem

As a charity, they were looking at ways to support the funding of this development. Through the UK Government’s support of Made Smarter North-West pilot, they managed to secure match funding for developing the control system. InControl was already registered as a technology and services provider for Made Smarter and Bulky Bobs got in touch with us.

Working with Bulky Bobs’ design consultant – Butters Innovation – InControl proposed an outline specification for a control system to deal with all process steps, from pre-treatment, dry steam, UV radiation, Ozone, vacuum and drying processes. The system needed to be able to be easily operated by an intuitive HMI (operator interface) and have the flexibility to deal with changes of processes and speed in order to deal with the variability of mattress sizes.

As the machine was essentially a prototype, Bulky Bobs wanted to keep future developments in mind such as imaging cameras, bar code scanners, and remote connections for off-site supervision and technical support by InControl engineers.

The Solution

InControl Systems developed a functional design specification for the machine control system which was vetted and approved by Bulky Bobs’ design consultant – Jonathan Butters and redeveloped as the machine design concept evolved from a carousel-style machine to a simpler flat-bed roller conveyor system with a manual loading and unloading process at either end of the steam cleaning, bacterial treatment and drying processes.

InControl Systems chose to build the control system around an Allen Bradley – CompactLogix 5370 L3 Controller, Powerflex Drives, and an Allen Bradley PanelView Plus 7” colour touchscreen HMI for the operator interface running Factory Talk FTView ME.
The control system PLC components and Operator interface were built and supplied by InControl Systems in a floor-standing enclosure, situated against a wall close to the machine loading point.

The Future

Once the control system was delivered and the machine had been operational for a while, some small elements of the control system methodology were optimized to improve the process. For example, to avoid having to put mattresses through the process more than once, additional drying capacity was added.

Additionally, to avoid sending service engineers to the site, an Ixon Wireless Router with a 4G SIM card was added to the control panel. This had the benefit of not only providing affordable service support and software updates but also giving FRC Group remote cloud-based performance monitoring of their machine that can be accessed off-site.

FRC Group is now in the position where this machine can be commercialized and sold or license manufactured for other users and similar operators, either with other charitable organisations or progressive councils.

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