Conveyor Systems: Frequently Asked Questions
Everything you always wanted to know about conveyor systems
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What should you ask about your conveyor system project?
Q: What is a conveyor system?
A: Systems are usually defined as a conveyor, or group of conveyors, working in concert with each other or other machinery to achieve a goal. Conveyor systems can range from a very sophisticated distribution applications with hundreds of synchronized conveyors, controls, and integrations to a small number of conveyors that execute a specific task in a relatively small footprint. Conveyor systems typically have some level of controls and automation. They involve multiple conveyors working in concert with software or production machinery or material handling equipment or packaging machinery. In general, if your application requires multiple conveyors working either in concert with each other or with other machinery, it's a "system" by definition.
Q: What's the biggest benefit of a conveyor system?
A: The biggest reason to install a conveyor system is that it can automate materials movement and reduce the "hands-on" jobs of feeding a machine, moving a carton, or rotating a pallet. Conveyor systems free people for more appropriate, value-added tasks. There are plenty of angles, but the most important are:
- Labor cost reduction: Conveyor systems make it less expensive to move material within a distribution or manufacturing operation. When the volume justifies it, conveying an item is far more efficient than moving it by forklift, cart or hand. Reducing the number of people required to process a shipment, pick an order, or transport materials is often the most critical ROI factor.
- Throughput increases (the speed at which loads process through an operation): Conveyors can increase the amount of product that's delivered to a packing, picking, assembly or shipping operation. Conveyors justify themselves by delivering product to a function faster and more efficiently than other methods. For many companies, making sure deadlines can be met and orders can be processed quickly enough is so critical that conveyor systems will pay for themselves much faster than other alternatives.
- Space efficiency: Because conveyors allow you to move materials vertically, they can be installed on the floor, from the ceiling, and at multiple levels. This allows you to free up critical floor space. The only limitation might be your facility ceiling height.
- Error reductions: Because conveyor systems enforce standardization and can divert, accumulate or sort loads to their proper destinations, they can significantly reduce rework, errors, and issues with delivering the correct load to the correct destination.
- Conveyor systems control pace: Typically people think of systems in terms of their ability to increase speeds. But in some cases, it is desirable to regulate pace—slower, faster, and more attuned to the needs of the operation. Conveyors can serve as work buffers, allowing processes upstream to execute while serving up product and materials as quickly as needed.
- Injury prevention & safety: Conveyors are inherently safer than other material transport methods. Many companies are working to reduce the volume of forklift traffic in their facilities due to safety concerns, and have used that as a justification to implement a pallet conveying system. Any automation that removes people from lifting, straining and moving enhances safety, so cartons, totes, or even lightweight loads on conveyors are safer than alternative movement methods.
- Versatility: Conveyor systems can be designed for virtually any type of operation, from receiving to returns. They can be reversible; they can change heights; they can sort; they can rotate cartons or shoot them into a buffer for work down the line. They can be retracted. They can feed directly into a truck or dump items into bins as needed. A well-designed system can transform tedious work into fast-paced productivity.
Q: What is Cisco-Eagle's systems design process?
A: We've been designing material handling systems for nearly five decades and have a systematic approach to system design. Our Systems Integration Group is deeply knowledgable and experienced, and can provide full design services for most any application and operation type. We utilize AutoCad, Solidworks, and other modern design tools. We also engage in simulation services to help clients visualize their future system and make changes as the project is designed.
- It starts with questions. We'll ask for things you might not consider in advance to help us understand your needs and how we can design a conveyor system to meet them. We will profile your business rationale, your load profiles, your operational objectives and much more.
- A vision for success is developed. We work to fully understand your needs and partner with you to develop a clear vision for the project—what you want to accomplish, how you'd like to improve. What specifically makes your operation better, and how we can help you get there.
- Solutions options are defined; the general becomes specific. Now we're getting concrete. There are drawings, ideas and plenty of back-and-forth. It's a time where the plan is refined and all the details are in play. You'll get to see drawings, renderings and ideas. This is where simulations might be developed.
- Schedules are developed. After you arrive at the concept and accept the solution, it's time to start the process of implementation. There will be things to deal with like lead times, plant shut-downs, and all the details of this type of work.
- Implementation: It's time for the vision to become reality. Time for drawings and ideas to become rollers, belts, steel and bolts. World-class implementation involves much more than a precise, on-time installation.
- Post-installation is the most important step. We make your life easier after the system is installed. The way we do business is partner-oriented, meaning we aren't going anywhere once the hardware is installed, debugged and working. There is a lot to consider here. See "Conveyor Systems Support" for full details.
More information: steps to conveyor system success.
Q: Why do companies continue with more manual processes when they could implement a system?
A: Plenty of reasons—some of them good ones. These can range from cost (always important) to corporate goals to entrenched beliefs or inability to make changes at a corporate level. It can also be a case of bad timing, or insufficient ROI from the process. Sometimes you just don't need to automate; we'll advise you of that if it's true. At other times, it makes sense to invest in better material flow in your operation. We'll provide an unbiased look at your needs.
Q: How will my project be implemented?
A: We specialize at project management, so we'll provide a complete roadmap at the start of the process. It's a difficult task to recreate product flow from the start in a production plant, but we've done that many times. It's also difficult to create a concept, a design and implement it in a new facility, but we have the teams to ensure you can execute your project correctly. See our project management page for more information.
Q: How do you handle installation?
A: Since conveyor system installation is critical to a successful project, it's a core competency. Since we're specialized in this industry, we have a deep understanding of the issues that can occur with many subcontractors, multiple shipments, and the merging of many types of machinery. Electrical, mechanical and controls installations—and the coordination of these elements—require specific expertise.
Q: What about food-grade or stainless applications?
A: Conveyor systems are routinely used in food processing, medical, pharmaceutical, and other clean applications. These systems can be built with stainless, plastic chain and other materials that serve the needs of these types of applications. All types of conveyors can be built to serve these needs, ranging from sortation to accumulation to spirals to low profile systems. These applications tend to require specific expertise and experience for successful implementations.
Q: What causes people the most issues with a conveyor system?
A: the biggest issues tend to involve lack of foresight in the design process. When a system is designed without an eye to the future, it's difficult to adapt it to changes in order profiles, new SKUs, process disruptions and other factors that can disrupt an operation. At a high level, you need to think about the future of your operation when making changes or implementing material handling equipment. Past that, poor maintenance can be a killer. So can changing personnel who don't understand how the system was designed or how it should be utilized. These are all correctable issues, assuming the conveyor system was designed correctly in the first place.
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