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Conveyor Types

Conveyor Systems: Total Cost of Ownership



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

Conveyor type

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:

  • Configuration
  • Application
  • 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.

Conveyor controls

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.

The motor:

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.

Useful life

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…

  1. What motivated you to specify the conveyor type you are offering?
  2. What energy-saving features are in your design?
  3. What is the mean time between failure of critical components?
  4. How frequently is maintenance required?
  5. How accessible are parts?
  6. What’s involved in reconfiguring this conveyor?
  7. 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.

Conveyor Types

Interfloor Conveyor system for Ingram Micro



Client: Ingram Micro Commerce & Lifecycle Services, Northampton DC

The Global Leader in Logistics, Commerce Enablement & Device Lifecycle Services.

Ingram Micro Commerce & Lifecycle Services provides supply chain solutions that connect supply and demand. From cross-border fulfilment to dropship and returns management, IT asset disposition, remarketing, distribution etc, their solutions drive growth, enhance ROI, and protect their clients.

They serve customers across a broad spectrum of industries — from fast-growing brands to Global 2000 enterprises — and are dedicated to facilitating their customers success through their global warehousing network, world-class technology, strategic partnerships and decades of expertise in the logistics and fulfilment for technology and eCommerce products, customer support and ITAD industries.


Ingram Micro required a solution to streamline the packing and dispatch element of their Daventry operation and utilise space with a brand-new 3 tier mezzanine. The system requirement was to handle boxes, cartons and poly bags from all 3 mezzanine levels after they picked/packed and then deliver to the ground floor for consolidation prior to dispatch.  

The Ground floor pick/pack operation is to be undertaken on standalone conveyors.

The client required the system to be fully reversible for replenishment and alternative operation, which required each line to have 3 different operating functions.


It was concluded during the consultation/design stage that keeping it simple is often the most practical and best method.   Our design evolved such that each of the mezzanine floor systems operated independently from each other albeit managed and controlled from a common control panel.   The control panel, through the HMI, allowed each line to be independently controlled and operated completely autonomous from the others. This reduced the overall risk, simplified the operation and provided flexibility during planned maintenance. 

The Ground floor packing belt conveyors had their own standalone control box.

CSL opted to use proven equipment and designs, which had been utilised on countless installations on past successful projects.

Level 2 and 3 were identical in design and both required to handle the full product range inclusive of poly bags.  Each level consisted of a 20m long packing conveyor belt, which fed onto an AmbaFlex Ambaveyor slat conveyor, which provided a small footprint radius to fit within the special constraints.   Following in the need for a compact footprint, products are delivered to the ground floor via an AmbaFlex Spiral – the most compact spiral on the market. 

Level 1 pick did not include the requirement for handling polybags, only cartons and totes.  For this level, CSL utilised a 20m packing conveyor belt feeding some powered roller conveyor.  The design of the solution and space suited the use of a decline belt conveyor to deliver the product to the ground floor. 

All of the 3 mezzanine levels, had sections of conveyor which sited off the mezzanine floor area and CSL designed and supplied a multi-tier support structure encompassing all three levels.

The client wanted the system to have 3 modes: decline to dispatch, reverse incline for stock replenishment and a back up mode in case of a system issue, the line can be reversed and ran out to clear the line into wheeled magnums.

A spokesperson from Ingram Micro commented that “the new conveyor system matched the brief and the benefits will be quickly realised, the new CSL system will speed up interfloor product transits allowing for an increased throughput with lower operating costs”.

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Belt Conveyors

Plastic modular belts reach new heights



Two new modular belt solutions from Habasit bring new possibilities for industrial packaging applications, especially in applications where space is at a premium. The HabasitLINK M2592 raised deck radius belt saves up to 5 times the space needed for a traditional radius conveyor. The HabasitLINK M0870 HighGrip Micropitch delivers 50 per cent lower minimum transfer distance, enabling use of grip top plastic belts on nosebar applications with a knife edge down to 6 mm.

Conveyors for use in the packaging industry face several challenges including limited floor space for machines, meaning belts must operate in tight spaces and at tight angles. It is crucial that conveyors are optimised for the space, so they don’t harm production layout. Furthermore, the relatively large transfers achievable with traditional grip top modular belts led to many customers being unable to take advantage of modular belts. The two new products from Habasit help to overcome these limitations.

“Plastic modular belts with a grip top feature are ideally suited for incline and decline solutions. However, until now they were unavailable for tight transfer conveyors,” explained Anders Nilsson, R&D portfolio manager for HabasitLINK. “The new M0870 HighGrip Micropitch 0.3” provides reliable product positioning with no slippage and transfers as narrow as 23 mm, a 50 per cent reduction compared to other grip-top modular belts.

“With its high grip surface, this micropitch belt also allows for higher operating speeds in some applications because of the reduced product slippage on the belt. It also copes better than traditional modular belts in incline and decline applications.”

The second novelty by Habasit is the M2592 Radius Raised Deck 1”, which allows to optimize line layout and reduce the conveyor system footprint.

“We understand that, for many businesses, space is at a premium and this has caused problems in finding suitable plastic modular belts for packaging applications,” continued Nilsson. “The M2592 space saver belt allows customers to save up to five times the floor space compared to alternative solutions. This permits increased flexibility in terms of plant and production layout.

“Furthermore, thanks to the raised deck surface, customers can transport products with a wide range of sizes, from small boxes to wide pans, without interference from lateral wearstrips. This is in addition to the fact that it is one of the most robust belts available for radius applications, enabling longer conveyors and less drives and delivering an overall lower cost.

“Finally, it is worth noting that plastic belts emit less noise when transporting crates and pans compared to using rollers or chains. This facilitates a better working environment while also helping to protect the pans and crates being transferred from damage,” concluded Nilsson.

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Conveyor Types

Conveyor and Automation Upgrade for 25% Efficiency Boost in Receiving and Sortation



Industry: Home Entertainment DC in Spartanburg, South Carolina

Challenge: Redesign receiving and sorting system to reduce manual hand scans and improve sortation accuracy.

Solution: Custom-Built Sorting System to improve efficiency by 25%

Equipment: Hytrol E24EZ Conveyor, Modsort Divert and Transfer Conveyor, SICK 6-Axis Barcode Scanner + Sizing Station

Challenge: Speed It Up and Sort It Out

Our home entertainment client, DISH Network in Spartanburg, South Carolina, was looking for an automated solution to optimize their receiving and sorting process.

Originally, they had packages coming in on two gravity conveyors, where they were stopped and scanned by hand before being manually sorted and unboxed.

“Here in receiving it’s a very labor-intense process,” says DISH Network Engineer Jimmy Pollard.

“We needed to be able to take that labor and put it to a more value-added process. So we went out to AEC seeking to improve automation in the receiving department.”

Solution: Scanning the Horizon

To streamline DISH Network’s process into the modern age of receiving and sorting, we teamed with System Plast to design and pair our Hytrol Roller Conveyor with their Modsort Divert and Transfer mods with a SICK 6-Axis Barcode Scanner and Sizing Station.

  The new system brings in multiple sizes and weights of packages on two separate conveyors, which are then automatically positioned onto a single conveyor using the Modsort modules.

Lined up along a single rail, the packages are then fed into a multi-surface scan tunnel for sizing and barcode scanning.

“What makes this process a more reliable sort is when it goes through the scan tunnel, it doesn’t have to search the entire contents of the width of the conveyor to find the box,” says AEC Material Handling Specialist Brian Hester.

“You’ve sent it to a fixed edge, which makes it a faster, more reliable scan.”

Once the packages have passed through the scan tunnel, non-accepted packages are sent down a side conveyor while accepted packages are once again split up into two conveyors.

From there, they are sent through a proprietary cutting machine, coming out the other end ready to be manually unloaded and sorted.

Saving Valuable Time and Resources

“The only people on the line now are the people putting packages onto the conveyors within the trailers. And then people further down the line are emptying the contents out of the boxes,” says AEC Material Handling Specialist Brian Hester.

“Everything between those two pieces is all automated.”

Hytrol’s E24EZ Low-Voltage Conveyor

Safety was also increased through the use and integration of Hytrol’s E24EZ Conveyor with the Modsort module which runs on 24 volts.

This low-voltage solution allows packages to be moved deliberately and evenly along the conveyor without the risks inherit to a gravity conveyor system, or the need for additional safety applications.

“The existing conveyor was built on a 24-Volt DC platform. So we knew we could utilize the 24 DC architecture of the System Plast Modsort without the additional safety guarding that would normally go around it,” says AEC President Darin Boik.

“Using the E24Z was definitely a time and cost saving benefit for all.” 

Just a 4-Day Install to Live Operation

Over the course of just four days, starting on a Thursday evening, the old system was removed and the new system in place.

On Tuesday morning, the packages were ready to roll.

Result: 25% Boost to Overall Process Efficiency

With the new system from AEC in place, DISH Network was able to increase efficiency as well as safety, while still saving money.

“Now the automated scan system is placed exactly where we used to have people that hand-scanned product.  This change allows us to move people to a more value-added process,” says Pollard.

“Automating this piece saves the company money – and by doing that we save our customers money and time.”

Repeat Business is a Testimony to Success

By integrating these various systems so successfully, AEC was brought on to provide the same custom material handling solution for DISH Network’s facility in El Paso, Texas.

“Because of the lessons we learned, we were able to finish that project in just 3 days with the same installer, so it worked out really well,” says Hester.

From Concept to Completion

As DISH Network’s single point of contact for AEC, Hester was there from “cradle to grave” on the project.

From development and layout to equipment selection and installation, only one project manager handles everything for our client. And the result?

25% Boost in Efficiency and Improved Safety

“With the design and automation supplied by AEC, we found that we improved our overall process by 25% in efficiency,” says DISH Network Engineering Manager, Robert Russel.

“Now that it’s automated, we’ve achieved improved sortation accuracy and minimized touchpoints.”


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