Do not take conveyors for granted. They are complicated machines that affect productivity, especially when integrated into large parcel handling systems. Consider the following to achieve a swift return on investment and keep productivity on a high.
1. Know your load
When selecting a conveyor system, consider its intended load carefully. Make a list of the items the machine will transport and note their height, width, length, and weight. These are factors that could affect the conveyor's performance.
Consider load orientation. If an operator incorrectly places an item on the conveyor the load width may become its height. Check the load's bottom configuration (know as its footprint), as this can affect the conveyor's design and cost. Loads can act erratically on roller conveyors and cause the system to jam. Look for feet or runners on boxes and pallets, soggy or bulging bottoms on cardboard cartons, and protruding nails on wooden cases.
2. Choose the right incline conveyors
Incline conveyors move goods between two different elevations. They are useful for sites that incorporate mezzanine floors or loading bays. Incline conveyors can affect system performance, so choose them carefully. Take into account throughput requirements, load characteristics, travel distance, in-feed or discharge points, proximity to employees, safety devices, and interface with horizontal conveyors. Be wary of incline conveyors that exceed a 30º angle as parcels may slip or tumble.
Conveyors have millions of moving parts and new systems require extensive testing. Visually inspect conveyors to check safety guards and stickers are in place. Ensure emergency stops are easily accessible.
Thoroughly test controls, and see what happens if operators were to make errors, such as pushing two buttons at once. Downtime is costly so check how long it takes for the system to recover. Test conveyors with a small number of items placed at in-feed points. Check belts, rollers, diverters, and merges work properly, and look for parcels hanging up on bends. Load the system to capacity and evaluate its performance. Check carton spacing on conveyors, and overload areas to detect where bottlenecks could occur.
4. Regular maintenance
Scheduled servicing keeps conveyors functioning properly and minimizes the risk of breakdowns. Replace components at regular intervals or as they begin to show signs of wear. This is called predicted maintenance.
Regular housekeeping (preventative maintenance) is essential to maintaining conveyors. Service routines are machine specific and tailored to operational demands, but consider lubricating components, testing emergency stop controls, cleaning the conveyor, and checking belt (if fitted) tracking and condition. Watch for rollers (if fitted) that do not rotate or rotate irregularly, and check electrical components.
5. Know fixes to common problems
Problems often look worse than they actually are. Before calling an expensive service engineer, assess the situation.
If items accumulate in one area of the conveyor, try cleaning or adjusting photo eye sensors (if fitted). If the conveyor suddenly shuts down for no apparent reason, reset the emergency stop buttons. If the drive on a belt conveyor runs but the belt does not, check for overloading.
Conveyors often move slower than other warehouse or industrial equipment and do not appear threatening. However, they are powerful machines and can be dangerous! Clearly mark start and stop controls, and train workers in all aspects of safety. Keep the surrounding area clean and free of obstructions.
Accidents can injure employees and cost companies thousands of pounds a year in lost productivity and lawsuits. Keeping people safe around conveyors contributes to a swift return on investment.
7. Reduce energy consumption
The more a conveyor costs to run, the slower the return on investment. It is important to conserve energy and keep utility bills down. Turn conveyors off when not in use if possible. Timer controls are available to automate this process if required. Use gravity roller conveyors where feasible to reduce energy consumption.
8. Design conveyor workstations ergonomically
Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are strain injuries that usually occur in the neck, back or legs. Caused by prolonged periods of standing, repetitive movement, or improper manual handling, they often have long-term health implications for workers, and prove costly to businesses. Conveyors reduce the need for repetitive lifting and carrying, but they can contribute to the development of MSDs if not designed with the task and users in mind. Consider the physical aspects of conveyor workstations carefully. Employees should not have to assume awkward postures, such as stooping or twisting, at any time.
Ensure conveyor workstations are at a comfortable working height, and workers do not have to reach across the belt to grip items on the conveyor. Check there is adequate clearance for feet at floor level, or operators may have to lean forward to work.