The amount on your purchase invoice isn’t the last time you’ll pay for that conveyor, but those ongoing costs of operations can be dramatically reduced by making good decisions at the point of purchase. If a conveyor is correctly specified and designed for future use, costs over time can be slashed.
The three costs a conveyor system carries:
- Initial costs – the easiest to understand and quantify. This is the cost of equipment, installation, and controls.
- Operational costs – electrical usage & air consumption
- Maintenance costs – Spare parts, replacement parts, & labor costs
All of these costs are spread over the conveyor’s useful life, so a formula that might best express what your conveyor will cost is: TCO (total cost of ownership) = IC (initial cost) + OC (operational costs) + MC (maintenance costs)/ useful life of the system.
Higher initial costs may be recouped in lower maintenance and operational costs over time if the right decisions are made when the equipment is specified and ordered. The initial cost savings can be eaten up by higher operating and maintenance costs, but neither of those is as expensive as a system that cannot do the job it was deployed to do. Long-term costs can easily outstrip the initial costs. What are the real, long-term costs and what can you do to control them?
Why total cost of ownership is critical
Simply, it can outweigh the cost of the equipment itself. It is truly the “make or break” measurement that tells us whether or not a conveyor project is successful. Items that can help control TCO
- Conveyor type – the right conveyor in the right application is more efficient and requires less maintenance
- Conveyor controls – can aid you in controlling cost over time.
- Power train – efficiencies that can be gained and the reduction of maintenance
- The adaptability of conveyor system
All conveyors are not created equal, and the best conveyor is different depending on the application, situation, and location. When you’re specifying conveyors you must consider the following factors:
- Throughput requirements
Example: Compare two belt-driven accumulation conveyors. A conventional belt-driven conveyor with a centralized drive costs less than an innovative alternative such as Hytrol’s e24 24-volt DC power roller system with its decentralized drive system. But the e24 is less expensive to install, operate, and maintain. Many warehousing and distribution professionals aren’t aware of the 24-volt technology. Newer innovations have extended the life and reliability of these conveyors compared to conventional drives. You don’t have a centralized drive; you have drives throughout the conveyor, mounted outside the rollers, one motor per accumulation zone. The motor has moved from inside the tube to outside the frame.
The 24-volt solution isn’t perfect for every application, of course. This must be evaluated during the specification phase. For example, a 400-foot straight line of accumulation conveyor might be better served by a conventional accumulation conveyor. A centralized drive system may cost 11-12% less over a 15-year lifespan. However, if you have a system with many curves and merges, and other integrated equipment, paying the higher initial price for a decentralized drive system can greatly reduce electrical usage and increase system versatility to offset the higher initial cost.
Configure your controls right, and you reduce operating energy costs for the life of the system. Controls affect energy consumption at three levels:
- Warehouse level
- Conveyor level
- Zone level
- “Sleep” features
Sleep features disconnect power from a conveyor when power isn’t needed. This can be done at a zone (case) or at a system (conveyor) level.
Zone Level: you can remove power at a case level when product isn’t flowing through that particular zone. This can result in energy savings of 10-20% for belt-driven live roller conveyor – and 99% on 24-volt systems. This is excellent in accumulation systems when there are times that products are accumulating and others when products are freely flowing.
Conveyor Level: At the conveyor level, a sleep feature can remove products from an entire drive. For example, in a pick module application, when products aren’t being picked, the conveyor can be programmed to sleep. Not only does this save energy, it prevents needless wear and tear on the conveyor. This reduces the need for spare parts and maintenance.
You can also adjust speed based on needs through controls. When you design a conveyor system, it may be built for a 5-8 year future. The conveyor may not need to operate at its maximum speed when the system is first deployed. This can also be the case for operations that have seasonal spikes – conveyors can be controlled to ramp up the speed at peak times and slow it down when that level of throughput isn’t needed. This saves energy and maintenance costs.
The power train
The power train is perhaps the most important aspect of any given conveyor system. Power train specification has a direct bearing on every aspect of operating costs – operational, maintenance, and energy. A power train’s basic components are its motor, its gearbox, and its power transmission components.
Motors are becoming more and more efficient. Motors are configured as standard efficiency, energy-efficient, and super-efficient. As you step up, each step might be only 3% efficiency. But in a larger distribution center application, simply stepping up from standard to efficient may save $10,000 to $30,000 per year (depending on functions and numbers of drives). The minimal extra initial cost often pays off over time.
As energy efficiency increases, so does the life of the motor. This reduces maintenance and replacement costs over time.
The gearbox is an often overlooked component, but a standard, inexpensive worm box is 50-90% efficient. A Helical Bevel gearbox is 95-98% efficient. A worm box is fine when you are operating conveyor in the 10:1 ratio. If you are operating conveyors at a 60:1 or 80:1 range, efficiency levels may drop off tremendously with a worm box.
Stepping up to the Helical Bevel box can move you can move from 50-90% efficiency to 95%-98% efficiency.
If you can $10,000-plus a year with a simple 3% efficiency gain in your motor, imagine what an 8-10% efficiency gain can do. Gear reducers not only deliver efficiency, but they also reduce maintenance costs and extend motor and conveyor lifespan.
Synthetic lubrication is another feature that can add a couple of percentage points inefficiency.
Power transmission components
Power transmission component options, in order of increasing efficiency (and reduced maintenance costs) include
- Chain & Sprocket
- Timing Belt & Sprocket
- Direct Drive
Chain & Sprocket drives have been the most popular, default standard in the conveyor industry. They are also the costliest to operate. They are the most maintenance-intensive of the three types, and one of the most maintenance-intensive components on any power conveyor with their need for lubrication. There are high efficiency, low-maintenance chains that can have a return-on-investment of about a year. You can even retrofit these chains.
Timing belts are sometimes used in lieu of chain, but the efficiencies gained may not have an adequate return on investment in most operations.
The better option for reducing transmission costs is by using a direct drive system. This eliminates the maintenance and spare parts costs associated with power transmission equipment. Removing those mechanical components also reduces maintenance. Direct drives are more efficient and have an ROI of 2 to 3 years.
Adaptability and flexibility
There is nothing worse than being locked into equipment that can’t change when business requirements demand it, so system flexibility has a direct and compelling bearing on the lifetime cost of owning a conveyor. This factor boils down to:
- Flexibility – can your conveyor system be configured on-demand to meet changing requirements?
- Product size changes – can your system adapt to different-sized cartons or loads? When products are longer, can the conveyor system handle them?
- Dynamic zone allocation can adapt zero pressure accumulation conveyor to different product sizes.
- Product release modes (singulation, slug, cascaded): If your system needs singulation mode initially, can it switch to cascaded mode for higher throughputs at the same speed? This minimizes gaps between cartons, allowing more conveyed product in the same space.
- Individual zone configuration: product merging, product transferring, and workstations/pick stations. If you must bring in a software engineer to change your zones, that’s an added operating cost. If you deploy an adaptable conveyor that can do this on the fly, the operating costs decline.
- Sortation. Can you control carton destination without extensive redesign? If the conveyor manufacturer must do this, that will no doubt be an added cost.
The longer a conveyor lasts, the less it costs over time. This can be broken down into three basic factors: reliability, support, and training.
Component reliability is critical. From the motor to the gearbox to the roller bearings or mounted bearings, to belting, everything matters. For instance, Abec precision roller bearings deliver the best value and longest life. Commercial bearings don’t have reliability, and these are low-cost, high-value investments.
Manufacturer support: Will you receive adequate training? Will parts be available in five or ten years? Is the documentation robust and easily attainable? Can you get access to your manufacturer when you need it?
Questions to ask when specifying a conveyor system…
- What motivated you to specify the conveyor type you are offering?
- What energy-saving features are in your design?
- What is the mean time between failure of critical components?
- How frequently is maintenance required?
- How accessible are parts?
- What’s involved in reconfiguring this conveyor?
- What happens when my product load changes?
These considerations will help you specify the right system for your application, and return the most possible dollars to your bottom line.
Wiggle eCommerce Fulfilment Centre
Conveyor Systems Ltd completed a major installation supplying an extensive pack and sortation conveyor solution for global online retailer Wiggle Ltd. Operating as the UK’s #1 online Cycle, Run & Swim retailer along with being recently voted the Which? recom- mended #1 online outdoor & leisure shop. In 2015, due to the continuous growth of the business, they took the decision to relocate the Operation to a larger, consolidated Fulfilment Centre (320,000 sq.ft.) in the West Midlands from the multiple small sites operated in Portsmouth.
After a rigorous tender process, CSL’s ability to provide a well demonstrated solution was key to meeting the brief and winning the contract. This included using the latest 3D CAD drawing software to help visualise the system as a lifelike operational representation in the new building.
The brief was to combine packed consignments from 3 pick/pack areas over 3 floors and sort them down 12 lanes into 4 dispatch zones for separate carriers and services. The system needed to cope with up to 90 boxes per minute of varying sizes and weights, from very small parts and clothing up to large boxes of bicycle wheels!
The conveyor system which was specially designed by CSL at over 900mm wide, was engineered in detail after taking into account all comments/ suggestions made by both management and operators at Wiggle together with fully recognising their requirements, considering the vast array of shapes and sizes of products whilst overcoming operational issues.
The mezzanine consists of 2 upper floors which along with the ground floor form three independent pick/pack zones and sortation areas which were designed specifically to avoid issues caused when one combined system is stopped for maintenance/Repairs.
Once an order is picked, packing operatives check the order then pack into an array of outers ranging from poly bags to large cardboard boxes prior to applying carrier despatch labels. The consignment is then placed on a section of zero line pressure (ZLP) accumulation roller conveyor which starts the transit to the sortation area on the ground floor. This type of conveyor is used widely on the system to ensure noncontact queuing due to the wide variety of sizes, shapes and weights causing damage to each other and potentially initiating jams along the system.
The upper mezzanine floors use 2 powered Ambaflex spiral lowerators (almost 100 units supplied by CSL throughout the UK to different customers), to safely and continuously bring the boxes down where they are then barcode scanned to determine, by way of state-of-the-art scanning arrays on each line, which carrier despatch lane they require. When the packages reach the correct despatch lane they are diverted off at 90 degrees using high speed switch sorters. Depending on the source pick floor, they either decline down a grip top belt to an ergonomic picking height or transit on a horizontal roller conveyor to the discharge area where a despatch operative removes and places them onto a pallet or into a wheeled cage ready for carrier collection.
CSL provided the full turnkey conveyor project including control, installation and commissioning of the wide range of packages.
“As this was a new facility it was difficult to visualise the conveyor system prior to the mezzanine floor installation, but CSL provided a detailed 3D drawing which included both the mezzanine and the conveyors which brought clarity to this. The install process was smooth and the end results have allowed us to increase control, flexibility & volumes”
Dan Corrigan, Head of Logistics & Operations Development
New, aesthetic Conveying System for the future
The young Swiss startup Avancon SA (www.avancon.com) has set itself the goal to revolutionize the unit handling systems in distribution and logistics centers. They offer now a new modern and very innovative conveying system. This will be distributed worldwide by manufacturers of conveyor systems and logistic system integrators. The system has been developed by Dieter Specht, the founder of the Interroll Group.The car industry, the computer industryand even the machine industry presentevery few years new and moderndesigned models. Why? To be able toattack new markets and new customers.However, it is hard to see somethingnew in the conveyor industry.
Most ofthe unit conveyor systems weredeveloped 15, 20 or even 50 years agoand are still sold today in a construction,which remembers on the patents of theBritish toy manufacturer Frank Hornby,who has already registered his patent ofa “Meccano” kit in 1901.Now, the two young founders of the start-up Avancon SA are ready to revolutionize the conveyor industry with thisnew and streamlined concept. It’s full of innovative and functionalideas and has been patented worldwide.
Originally, Dieter Specht had developed this systemfor Interroll. But it didn’t fit to their philosophy. So hefound two enthusiastic entrepreneurs, Denis Ratz,he has a bachelor of science in business informaticsand Dr. Daniele Gambetta, who has a PhD inelectric machines. They established inTicino/Switzerland a new start-up under the name Avancon SA (from Avant-garde and Conveyor).
The CEO, Denis Ratz showed the new conveyor system to some large and important manufacturers of conveyor- and logistics-systems and got a very positive response.
“Of course, we wanted to see the reactions to our completely new and very modern designed conveyor concept,” says Denis Ratz. “Most were positively impressed about the outstanding design. I could answer all their questions about the functions and requirements of the market. After these meetings with CEOs and technical managers of big and well-known companies I was highly motivated. Now we are ready. Everything is finished and tested. We can deliver. Several potential customers will visit our large test facility here in Ticino. We believe that the functions and the many advantages of this innovative system will convince them.”
Avancon SA invested heavily into development, in machines, in molds, patents and in the production. With a clever marketing concept enables an exclusive group of Conveyor Manufacturers and System Integrators worldwide to promote the system under their own label/brand and house color to the final market, the operators of logistics and distribution center.
Denis Ratz explains: “We want to offer something avant-garde to the manufacturers of conveyors and intralogistics systems. But we don’t want to interfere with the market of our customers and we will not offer to distribution- and logistics-systems directly to operating companies. Even though this modern system will catch the eye of every manager of this industry.”
The partner and head of technique, Dr. Daniele Gambetta, is an experienced specialist for electronic control and DC-motors. He has patents of completely new DC-motors, which will also be integrated in the future in the Avancon Conveyor System.
“Today – in the digital age of ‘industry-4’ – the electronic connectivity is of enormous importance. I was very fascinated by the ideas of Dieter Specht, so I have joined this young start-up,” says Dr. Daniele Gambetta. “I have never seen such a convincing new concept in the conveyor industry. Everything is completely different, new, safer and much better. We believe that about 80 % of all goods up to 50 kg weight, which have to be transported millions of times worldwide every day, can be handled with this new system.”
Meanwhile, the design has been awarded by the internationally well known “Red-Dot” price in Germany and also by the very coveted throughout Asia, “Good-Design” award in Japan.
The two partners have a lot of courage to break into such an established market today. But who would not want to offer their customers something very aesthetic, even revolutionizing, which differs to all previous designs?
Why aesthetic? Well, ask yourself: would you buy today a machine, which is not modern covered? Now you can offer your customers something extraordinary that combines innovation with emotions.
Denis Ratz says: “We are very positive about the future. We have just moved into a newly built modern factory, which corresponds to our DNA. Here we have a daily capacity production of up to 400 meters conveyor tracks of our new ZPC- system. Anyone who builds conveyor systems by himself can obtain all individual elements from us and so use the patents free of charge. Several customers want to exhibit the new system at one of their upcoming trade fairs.
‘ZPC’ system means “Zone Powered Conveyor” system, in which each zone is controlled and driven separately. The system is extremely flexible and adaptable. It is capable of slow or fast transporting in any desired line and, where necessary, can accumulate without pressure. The system can also communicate with higher IT or Bus system very easily and at significantly reduced installation cost.
Of course it transports goods in all directions, with all the functions an engineer wants for logistics systems.
Last but not least it seems to be much cheaper than it looks.
Automated sortation system installed specifically to deal with “small traffic”
The UKs largest dedicated parcel carrier officially opened its new purpose built, 15,000 square metre, parcel distribution hub in Warrington back in 2014. Designed to support the continuation of growth of the company the new hub has a capacity of around 550,000 parcels a day – almost three times that of the previous site in Warrington.
The facility’s purpose was to help with the developing requirement for next day deliveries, playing a key role in plans for international expansion and to provide a platform for further innovation, as the company looks to introduce a host of new products to the market.
L.A.C Conveyor Systems Ltd is now entering its 4th year, working closely with the multinational delivery company, in the development and implementation of innovative, flexible technologies to suit the ever-evolving challenge of handling parcels from a wide range of shapes and sizes whilst achieving faster processing times.
L.A.C Conveyor Systems innovative
The latest challenge was to introduce a sortation solution specifically designed to accommodate small sized parcels. Prior to the new solution the sortation of “small traffic” was a combined sortation process, with larger parcels. This combined automated parcel sortation approach meant that smaller parcels were harder to control and ultimately ended up being manually sorted. This system required a lot of human intervention to gain full control, proving not the most efficient approach, as the accuracy of the sort could not be guaranteed. Separating smalls from larger parcels meant higher throughputs could be achieved utilising a more streamlined solution with a 100% accuracy of sort.
L.A.C Conveyor Systems innovative “Automation Toolbox” meant a combination of technologies could be combined to satisfy the required solution and could be delivered and implemented within a small footprint and with minimal disruption to current operations.
The solution utilised L.A.C designed induct/feed conveyors, handling bulk parcels on infeed for initial parcel separation, which were then separated further utilising a flighted belt conveyor, leading on to a horizontal conveyor with 5 moveable ploughs and 1 fixed. The parcels were then broken down further spread across 6 chutes, presenting parcels to an operator platform. Operator interaction at this stage of the process provided a means of orientating parcels and placing them onto a Equinox split tray sorter with barcode labels accessible for automated scanning and verification.
The Equinox split tray sorter is a tray-based “bomb-bay” sorter developed specifically to handle flat goods such as packets, books, garments, parcels, and accessories, making it the ideal choice for L.A.C to integrate as part of a turnkey solution. The system offers the capacity to sort 10,000 trays per hour exceeding the requirements, but offering scope for future growth. It has a characteristic oval-shaped conveyor on which the trays circulate. This “open oval” design allows operators and further automation to integrate with ease.
An overhead scanning system ensured parcel identification and location could be achieved at high speed. L.A.C’s modular software design structure offered a seamless link with the host IT system, completing the final piece of the puzzle.
This unique automation approach has ensured a fast and flexible response to future e-commerce demands and has enabled an increased ability to handle parcels of such a shape and size in such a controlled manner. L.A.C’s diverse inhouse skill set has offered a solution that is cost effective providing faster processing of incoming “small” parcels.
Modernising the supply chain network
System to handle small sized parcels only
Cost effective and efficient flow of goods to consumers
Selecting & implementing the best technology
Allow for more next-day delivery
Increased order accuracy
Overall reduction in costs
Integrate with latest supply chain technology
Key services & Technologies
Feed conveyor – shaft mounted motor, tapered hopper to allow product to fall onto flyted belt conveyor.
Modular belt conveyor with hopper
Discharge conveyor with high side for product control
5 off moving ploughs and 1 fixed. Underslung braked motor with pivot arm connected to plough
6 off discharge chutes
6 off operator stations
Each discharge station offering PTL button light module
Double tray wide oval sorter
Sorter gross capacity (10,000 trays per hour)
Tray type 7 DT Double Tray – (Bombay also known as split tray)
Sorter direction – Clockwise
Barcode label control linking carton to station
Item detection sensing
Omni Camera Scanner – Overhead system for barcode label capture
L.A.C IT hardware and Software integration
Wireless network connection
VPN Remote Access
100% Accuracy of sort.
Increased supply chain efficiencies
Sortation direct into shipping cartons
Easy to use, simple efficient design and low maintenance decrease cost and increase uptime.
Design allows for the highest accuracy as well as a very small footprint without losing throughput.
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