If you haven’t purchased a new conveyor system in the last five years or so, you might think the book was closed long ago on conveyor technology. After all, how tough can it be to power some rollers and move a carton from here to there, right?
If you’re talking about a basic roller conveyor in a small factory or distribution center, maybe that’s true. But once you get beyond the basics, the next generation of conveyor systems and controls is addressing the needs and concerns of today’s increasingly complex and automated manufacturing and distribution environments. Several factors are at work, say industry experts, who cite the need by end users to handle more throughput with less equipment and a growing emphasis on energy savings and sustainability. But those aren’t the only factors.
“The incremental growth of Internet sales is pushing companies to handle more individual items than cartons and pallets, and we’re seeing changes in packaging,” says Phil Kaffenberger, vice president of product development for HK Systems (262-860-7000, http://www.hksystems.com)). “Both of those are impacting the way companies operate their conveyors.”
In addition to changes in products and packaging, order fulfillment best practices, like the increasing use of crossdocking, automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) and the growing demand for mixed SKU pallets are also shaping the next generation of conveyor technology, says Ken Ruehrdanz, distribution and warehousing market manager for Dematic (877-725-7500,http://www.dematic.com)). So is the rapid change of business. “For businesses to accommodate changes in market conditions, volumes or other unforeseen conditions, logistics operations need to adjust,” Ruehrdanz says. “That means all the material flow systems, including conveyor technology, must adjust accordingly.”
Here are some of the most common trends identified by some of the leading providers of conveyor equipment, systems and controls that are driving the conveyor market today.
Conveyor modernization: A well-designed, well-built conveyor system has an operational life expectancy of 15 or 20 years. During that time, however, your business processes and materials handling systems are likely to change. Not to worry, says Ruehrdanz. “There are a number of options that can modernize and extend a conveyor system’s life.” First, worn rollers that produce excess noise or damage side frames can be replaced with new rollers. Mechanical sensor rollers can be replaced with electronic sensing that allows lighter weight cartons to convey and improve carton control. Line shaft conveyors can be upgraded to motor driven rollers (more on this later) that offer sleep modes, accumulation modes, variable speed control and improved carton flow. Finally, traditional pulley motor assemblies can be replaced with a motorized pulley that will reduce energy usage and sound levels and maintenance costs.