How satisfied are you with the conveyor system or systems in your production facility? According to our State of Conveying survey, over half of respondents (62 percent) are not completely satisfied with their current system. That’s a big number, especially when you consider that a well-functioning conveyor system is crucial to keeping your production line moving.
What goals does a conveyor need to achieve in order for it to be successful?
Aside from the very basic goal of transporting materials from Point A to Point B, a conveyor system also needs to be:
- Sanitary, and a number of other factors.
If your conveyor system isn’t ticking all of these boxes, it shouldn’t be a surprise that you may not be entirely happy with its performance.
So how can a material handling system be improved? There are two main paths to go about this: making changes to the existing conveyor system or getting a new one altogether.
In this blog post, we’ll explore these paths in more detail and help you decide which is the best option for your facility.
Improving your existing conveyor system
There are many reasons why you may not want or have the option to get a brand-new conveyor system. Maybe you’ve only recently installed the system, and it’s still under warranty. Or, you may not have the budget for a completely new installation.
In these cases, you might be asking the question of how can your existing conveyor system be improved?
Let’s take a look at five steps to improve your material handling setup without starting from scratch.
Evaluate your existing system
The first step is to closely examine your current conveyor system and identify areas that could use some improvement.
Are there certain sections that are consistently causing problems? Do you need to transport different or larger products than before? Are there points in the line where materials tend to get held up?
Be precise as possible in your assessment. Collect numerical data, such as how often a line needs to be stopped for maintenance, how much time is lost due to downtime, and how much of the product is damaged during transport. These numbers will provide a solid starting point for measuring the effectiveness of any changes you make.
Consider the design changes you can make
Even when you can’t afford to replace an entire conveyor system, there may be some room for design changes. These could include:
- Altering the shape or width of the conveyor belt, conveyor tube, or other parts of the system
- Changing the angle of incline or decline
- Redesigning how products are loaded onto or taken off of the conveyor
- Adding or removing curves, and more
These are just a few examples, but even small changes in the conveyor design can have a big impact on performance. Refer to the starting data you gathered in Step 1 to see which areas might benefit most from these design changes.
Introduce a preventive maintenance program
Preventive maintenance is key to keeping any machinery, including conveyor systems, running smoothly. By catching small issues before they become big problems, you can avoid unplanned downtime and save a lot of money in the long run.
A preventive maintenance program for your conveyor system should include:
- Regular inspections
- Belt or chain tensioning
- Belt tracking and more
And remember – the main goal of this type of maintenance is to prevent problems before they happen, so don’t wait until something goes wrong to start your program!
Keep things clean
One often-overlooked aspect of conveyor maintenance is cleanliness. A build-up of dust, dirt and other debris can cause all sorts of problems, from clogged bearings to misaligned pulleys. Not to mention, it can also be a safety hazard for your employees.
Make sure that your conveyor system is regularly cleaned to keep it running smoothly and safely.
Just as you would implement a preventive maintenance program for your system, you should also have a cleaning schedule in place to keep things clean and tidy. This is especially significant if your business is in an industry where sanitation is a top priority, such as food processing.
Improve environmental conditions
Sometimes it is not the conveyor system itself that needs to be improved but the conditions in which it is operating. Excessive dust or fumes and extreme temperatures and humidity can all take a toll on your system – and your product.
If you suspect that poor environmental conditions are causing problems for your conveyor system, there are a few things you can do:
- Install air filtration or ventilation systems
- Keep the area around your conveyor system clean and free of debris
- Use enclosures or covers to protect your system from the elements
- Monitor temperature and humidity levels, and make changes as necessary
Making even small changes to the environment in which your conveyor operates can have a big impact on its performance.
Invest in high-quality conveyor components
Lastly, one of the best ways to improve your conveyor system is to invest in high-quality components. This includes everything from the conveyor belt, chain, cable, or rollers to the bearings, motors, and pulleys.
When you use high-quality components, you can be sure that your system will run more smoothly and with fewer issues. Not to mention, it will also last longer – saving you money in the long run.
Upgrading your conveyor system
Sometimes, even when you do everything right, your conveyor system might still need an upgrade. Our research report states that 46% of production facilities are planning on upgrading or replacing their conveyor systems in the next one to two years. An additional 34% plan to upgrade or replace their conveyors in the next three to four years.
Here are some undeniable signs that it’s time to invest in a new system:
If your conveyor system is frequently overloaded or underutilized, it might be time to consider an upgrade.
On the one hand, perhaps your business has grown, and you need a system that can accommodate more products. Or, on the other hand, maybe your system is too big for your current needs, and you’re wasting money on unnecessary capacity.
In either case, upgrading to a conveyor system with the right capacity can help optimize your production line and improve efficiency.
If you have a clue that capacity might be an issue, take a closer look at your system and compare it to your production needs. If you find that you’re regularly exceeding the capacity of your conveyor, or if it’s often standing idle, it might be time for an upgrade.
High maintenance and repair costs
Another sign that you might need a new conveyor system is if you’re spending too much money on maintenance and repairs.
Of course, all conveyor systems require some degree of maintenance and repairs. But, if you find that your system is constantly breaking down or needing repair, or if the downtime and associated costs are starting to add up, it might be time for a replacement.
Not only will a new system be more reliable, but it will also likely come with a warranty – giving you some peace of mind in case something does go wrong.
Need for more energy efficiency
There are two primary reasons why a business might want a more energy-efficient conveyor system: to save money and to reduce its environmental impact.
Both are important considerations in today’s business climate.
Modern conveyor systems come with features that can help reduce energy consumption, such as variable speed drives, automation, energy-efficient motors, and similar. If your conveyor system is more than a few years old, likely, it doesn’t have these features.
Upgrading to a more energy-efficient system can help you save money on your energy bill and do your part to reduce your company’s carbon footprint.
High levels of material degradation
Keeping your raw materials and intermediary and finished products intact is crucial to maintaining a high level of quality in your production process.
Unfortunately, conveyor systems can sometimes contribute to material degradation. If your system is causing too much wear and tear on your products, it’s time to upgrade.
There are a few different ways to tell if your conveyor system is damaging your materials:
- You regularly have to replace damaged products
- Your product quality is suffering
- There is an increase in customer complaints
If any of these sound familiar, it’s time to take a closer look at your conveyor system. You might need to switch to a different type of conveyor or add additional features to prevent further damage.
High overall costs
While it is undeniably expensive to purchase and install a new conveyor system, the long-term costs are often much lower than continuing to use an outdated or inefficient system.
If your conveyor system is costing you more money than it should – in terms of energy, operation, maintenance costs, and downtime – it might be time to consider an upgrade.
A new conveyor system might have a higher upfront cost, but long-term savings can make it well worth the investment.
What to consider when getting a new conveyor
Maybe you’ve already tried some of our recommended ways to fix common conveyor problems. Maybe despite your best efforts, your conveyor system is still struggling.
If it’s time for a new conveyor system, there are a few things you should keep in mind during the selection process.
First and foremost, you need to decide on the type of conveyor system that will work best for your needs. Too often, businesses choose a conveyor based on what they already use or what they think is the most popular option.
But, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to conveyors. The type of system you need will depend on many factors – including the products you’re conveying, the production process, the environment, and more.
Here are some of the questions to ask when choosing a conveyor type:
- What type of product will you be conveying?
- How heavy is the product? What is its size, weight or bulk density, flowability, abrasiveness, moisture content, etc.?
- Is the product fragile?
- How fast does it need to move?
These are just a few of the things you need to consider. Once you have a better understanding of what type of product you’ll be conveying and the required speed, you can narrow down your conveyor options.
Conveying or feeding
Conveyors can perform two basic functions – conveying or feeding.
As the name suggests, conveyors are primarily used for moving products from one point to another. But, in some cases, they can also be used for feeding products into other machines or processes.
Conveying includes moving products at a fixed rate that is not process-critical, meaning the conveyor has a maximum and minimum range but can operate anywhere within that range.
Feeding, on the other hand, is used to meter product into another process at a controlled rate. This might be done with a variable-speed conveyor or by adding an indexing feature to the conveyor. Feeding makes it possible to control the product’s arrival at the next process, which is critical in some cases.
Depending on your needs, you might use a conveying or feeding conveyor – or a combination of both.
Conveyor cleaning and maintenance
We’ve already established that one of the main reasons to upgrade your conveyor system is to reduce maintenance and cleaning costs. But it’s worth mentioning again because it’s such an important factor in the decision-making process.
In fact, our State Of Conveying survey revealed that 34% of respondents said that ease of cleaning is one of the top priorities when choosing a new conveyor system. 28% mentioned minimizing maintenance costs.
Cleaning and maintenance costs can be reduced in a number of ways – by choosing a conveyor with fewer parts, using corrosion-resistant materials, or adding features that make cleaning easier.
For example, some conveyors come with clean-in-place (CIP) mechanisms that allow for cleaning without disassembly. Others might have an open-frame design that gives operators better access to the product-contact parts of the conveyor.
When considering a new conveyor system, be sure to ask about the cleaning and maintenance requirements. This will help you compare the true cost of ownership for each option.
Safety and sanitary guidelines
Regardless of the industry you’re working in; there’s always a risk of injury when operating machinery. That’s why it’s important to consider safety when choosing a new conveyor system.
The good news is that there are many ways to make conveyors safer – from adding guarding to using sensors and other safety features.
And, if you’re working in the food or beverage industry, you’ll need to consider sanitary guidelines. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the USDA have established strict regulations for conveyors used in food processing facilities.
To ensure your conveyor system meets these guidelines, look for one made of stainless steel or other non-corrosive materials. The conveyor should also have smooth surfaces designed to minimize the risk of product contamination and cross-contamination.
Lastly, you’ll need to consider your budget when choosing a new conveyor system.
Conveyor systems can vastly vary in price. The cost will depend on the type of conveyor, the material it’s made of, its features, and more.
To get an accurate estimate of the cost of a new conveyor system, be sure to get quotes from multiple suppliers. And don’t forget to factor in installation, training, and ongoing maintenance costs.
Calculate your return on investment (ROI) to make sure upgrading your conveyor system is a wise decision for your business.
To do this, you’ll need to estimate the cost of the new conveyor system and compare it to the cost of continuing to use your existing system. You’ll also need to evaluate the benefits of upgrading, such as reduced downtime, less maintenance, and increased productivity.
If the ROI is positive, upgrading your conveyor system is a sound decision.
Making a decision to upgrade your conveyor system is not always easy. But, if you take the time to consider all of the factors, such as whether your existing system is at capacity, how easy it is to clean and maintain, and whether it meets safety and sanitary guidelines, you’ll be able to make the best decision for your business.
When you’re ready to upgrade, take into account the following:
- The type of conveyor you need
- Cleaning and maintenance costs
- Safety and sanitary guidelines compliance
- Your overall budget and similar
Remember, the goal is to choose a conveyor system that will meet your needs now and in the future. With careful planning, you can find a system that will serve your business well for years to come.
If you would like some assistance in upgrading your conveyor system, please don’t hesitate to contact us at Cablevey. We would be happy to help you find the right solution for your business.