Conveyors are an ideal solution for transporting material (cartons, food items, automotive components, pallets, scrap metal, pills, wood and furniture, and heavy manufactured components) from point A to point B in a warehouse or distribution center. Plain and simple.
In order to maximize the efficiency of conveying systems, however, it’s critical that you choose the right solution to meet the specific needs of your operation. But when you factor in all of the different options and conveyor types – power roller conveyors, gravity conveyors, belt conveyors, to name a few – that’s when things start to get a bit tricky.
Questions like “What type of conveyor is the best fit for my application?” and “How do I make sure it will run as designed?” are just scratching the surface of the conveyor selection process.
Let’s take a look at a few key questions that can help you identify the right conveyor system for your needs:
What type of conveyor do I need?
The first step in the conveyor selection process is to determine what basic type of conveyor will deliver the greatest return on investment and handling ease to your operation. While the specific process varies from application to application (depending on organizational needs), you may want to begin by considering the five most common conveyors (skatewheel, belt, sliding bed, live roller, and accumulation). Each has its own distinct advantages and is particularly suited for certain applications.
Generally, the more information you have on the nature of your load, how you want to handle it, where you want to send it, and how your conveyor should integrate with other handling equipment or production machinery, the better. Load data and application objectives should be extensively studied and analyzed as you start the process of selecting conveyors. Don’t fall into the trap of “starting at the end,” where critical load and application information is ignored, and equipment specified on an arbitrary basis.
And no—low price isn’t usually the best way to specify conveyors. Capital equipment like conveyors should be specified based on cost of total ownership (energy usage, maintenance costs, cost of errors) more than the initial equipment purchase costs.
It’s not always easy to understand the reasons one roller or belt system might be better suited to a particular application, but professionals from Cisco-Eagle, Hytrol, or its other integration partners specialize in these situations.
For more information on conveyor types, be sure to check out Hytrol’s ABC Conveyor Book.
What other factors should influence my conveyor decision?
The selection process does not end once you’ve chosen the right conveyor to fit your operation. Additional factors to consider include the type of controls used in the conveying operation (programmable logic controllers or PC-based controls), as well as the conveyor’s noise level and energy consumption.
Many companies have already invested in conveyors with high precision bearings that more than fulfill OSHA requirements for noise. Although this option may increase the cost by as much as 5%, it decreases worker fatigue. Energy efficient motors can also be a wise investment, given the instability of energy prices. Many standard conveyors now ship with these energy efficient motors, but depending on the type and manufacturer, it’s worth investigating as you specify a system.
Also, advanced conveyor technology such as Hytrol’s E24 24-volt motor drive roller conveyors can deliver even better energy savings.
How do I integrate the conveying system into my existing operations?
After determining what type of conveyor will meet your organization’s specific needs, you need to evaluate how the conveying system will integrate into your facility’s operations. It’s important to note that one size does not fit all, so you’ll want to consider your unique process – and how it can be made more efficient with the use of conveyor.
Tools such as CAD drawings, specifications, parts lists, justifications, and more can all assist in designing a world-class conveying system to improve facility operations. When it comes time to take the conveyor from vision to reality, these drawings and ideas will prove instrumental in making certain all the details in conveyor implementation are taken care of.
What do I need to do to test my new conveyor for performance?
Conveyor testing is a five-step process that begins with a visual safety inspection: Are all the safety guards in place? Are the emergency pull-stops accessible at any point along the line? Are the safety stickers easy to locate and read?
From there, you’ll want to proceed to function testing, load testing, error recovery, and “what if” scenarios (to see how the conveyor system reacts to unplanned events, operator misuse, or worst-case scenarios). The basic idea is to ensure that your conveyor functions at peak performance both now – and into the future.
One of the things Cisco-Eagle takes advantage of is Hytrol’s ability to test actual loads prior to system purchase. This allows you to check your actual load on real equipment.
We also utilize simulation software for conveyor systems projects. While a simulation isn’t always the end of the line in terms of application testing, it’s one more tool at your disposal when it comes to specifying exactly the right conveyor system for your needs.
While a conveyor system is a major investment, it’s one that brings with it the promise of more efficient and precise warehouse operations. Through careful consideration of the right type of conveyor to suit your facility’s unique needs – in combination with a thoughtful implementation and evaluation process – you can reap the benefits of optimized conveyor performance both now and in the future.
Scott Stone is the Director of Marketing for Cisco-Eagle, Inc., a provider of integrated material handling and storage systems for industrial operations. Scott has 25 years of experience in industrial operations and marketing.