Many people working in warehousing and distribution already incorporate some type of conveyors. These operations often depend on some level of equipment or automation to transport, pack, and ship orders every day.
To anyone new to a warehouse or distribution center operation, the task of finding the right conveyors and automation can be a daunting task.
1. Know your product profile
There are several types of conveyors designed for general and specific purposes. The profile and mix of products you want to convey dictates the type of conveyor needed.
To come up with the right solution you must come up with product or package specifications which include:
- Minimum and maximum L x W x H (or diameter if you have round products)
- Minimum and maximum weight of your products
- How many products per minute need to flow on the conveyor system? This may be calculated by total throughput per day, per hour, per shift, etc. Knowing the maximum you have today or need to ramp up to is key
- Working height of any existing process, existing conveyors or machines that will attach to conveyors or preferred height for a new system
- Is the purpose to transport products from point A to point B? Or is the solution needed more complex where machine controls and other processes will dictate how products are fed, removed from the conveyor, etc.? The basic question to ask yourself is: Will this be a standalone system/process or is it part of an integrated solution with other processes or machines involved?
2. Know the packaging material or product that will be conveyed
The type of packaging or raw product that will be conveyed has a major implication on the solution. The examples below apply to general material handling since there are endless variables of packaged goods, outbound shipping, internal processes, etc.
- Boxes only – A roller conveyor or belt conveyor generally works fine for boxes. The weight and size, throughput needed, etc. will determine if roller, belt over roller, or slider belt conveyor is best.
- Bags only – As a rule of thumb, it is best to avoid roller conveyor for bags. The exception would be bags that are full and flat on the bottom, the rollers are very close together (1-2″ centers versus typical 3″ centers), or there is mixed product where bags have been tested to flow normally.
- Mixed boxes and bags – Generally a belt or belt over roller conveyor will be used to accommodate a large product mix.
3. Know your next bottleneck
Conveyors will certainly solve many problems from basic transport of products, merging several lines of production to a single flow, or transforming an operation from fully manual tasks to an automated work of art.
During the design phase (whether a simple or complex system), it is a good idea to review the processes downstream to anticipate any new bottlenecks that may be created. Often times productivity increases dramatically and an additional solution may be needed for processes such as scanning, weighing, dimensioning, taping, etc. If any of these processes are manual inputs, it is easy to see how operators may not be able to keep up with the new and faster upstream process.
Below is a table showing a few types of conveyors mentioned in this article.
|24V DC motor driven roller conveyor||Transport, accumulation, boxes and flat items||Easy setup, low power consumption, no external controls required|
|24V DC motor driven belted conveyor||Transport, accumulation, boxes, bags, or irregular items||Easy setup, low power consumption, no external controls required|
|Slider bed||Basic transport for boxes, bags, or irregular items||Many types and sizes available, ideal for transport where start/stop is not frequent|
|Belt over roller||Heavier duty for boxes and items with higher weight variance or||Wide variety of product sizes on a single belt, lower friction than slider bed due to belt over rollers|