How to Select and Integrate a New Conveyor System into an Existing Facility
In production, warehouse and distribution facilities, conveyors automate what was previously a labor-intensive, time-consuming manual transport process and create a more efficient and reliable method that increases throughput, relieves bottlenecks and maximizes productivity. Purchasing and integrating such critical equipment into an existing facility can seem like a daunting task; however, this article will help prepare you for the endeavor by exploring the most important considerations, as well as what to expect during the integration process.
When choosing a new conveyor system, you must think about the materials you want to move, the available footprint and space restrictions of the facility, the goal of the application, the cost of the system and its integration and many other factors. Preparing answers to the following questions will arm you with the information that a reputable equipment provider and integrator will need to know to assure that the new conveying system will meet the requirements of the operation.
- What materials do I need to convey?
This important question greatly influences the conveyor type. It is crucial to note whether the product is fragile, what form the material will be in (are they solid parts, pellets or powders?), the size of the material (are they large boxes or small, micron-sized particles?) and the composition of the materials (are they abrasive, hot, frozen, wet, viscous or free-flowing?). Another important factor is whether you will be moving food, medical, pharmaceutical or other materials or products with cross-contamination issues.
- What are the needs of the operation or application that will be served by the conveyor?
It’s important to define how many products or how much material needs to be moved, as well as the required or expected cycle time/production rate and whether the speed of the system will be fixed or variable. Other considerations here include how the process will be controlled, whether the process is continuous or accumulated and how the product will be fed to the conveyor. The application requirements and desired workflow will also influence where drop points, discharges and refill points are placed, as well as the sequence of these functions. Also important is the environment within the facility. High humidity, temperature, pressure and hazardous or flammable materials or environments are all factors that should be discussed to determine any potential risks and identify necessary safety precautions.
- What space is available in my facility?
The layout, space restrictions and footprint of the factory floor will determine how a conveyor system is designed and installed, as well as where turns, rises, falls and stops will best be placed to provide the most efficient process.
- What are the long-term plans for the facility?
Is diversification a possibility in the future? If so, you may want to seek a conveyor system with reduced changeover times. Also, consider whether growth is expected in the future, which will impact throughput needs.
- What hasn’t worked in the past?
If you are replacing an older system, think about where you had bottlenecks, a lot of maintenance or other pain points. Replacing like with like may not be the best solution if you encountered difficulties with the previous conveyor or if the workflow, throughput or process has changed since installation of the previous unit. Also, new technologies may be available that weren’t options when your last conveyor system was installed and newer developments may provide a better solution for the current operation.
- What is the budget?
In a perfect world, a conveying system would be selected based solely on the above considerations, but in today’s capital-strapped economy, budget is a top-of-mind concern. Included in budget planning should be not only the cost of the conveyor, but also associated costs such as belting, guides, controls, safety devices, integration and start-up costs, as well as anticipated maintenance and other lifecycle costs.
What to Expect During Selection, Design and Integration?
In addition to selecting the most appropriate conveyor type, properly designing the system will ensure that it meets the very specific needs of your facility. It is possible to design a system in-house using online tools provided by some conveyor manufacturers; however, using an experienced automation supplier and integrator will better ensure that the components and design are the most suitable choices for the application.
When choosing a partner, it’s a good idea to seek one that is brand-agnostic to ensure that they will create a system that truly meets the requirements of the application without product bias or a preconceived strategy.
You can expect an integration partner to provide a consultation, as well as layout and design, installation and integration assistance, which is critical when the conveyor system will be installed in an existing process. During this process, an integration partner will align conveyor function in a way that optimizes productivity, create a system that efficiently connects the conveyor to load and unload areas and existing process equipment, identify any hazards and help calculate the proper operating speed, as well as carrier spacing and track elevations to ensure safety for workers and product.
Not only does working with an integrator ensure that the conveyor system meets the needs of your facility, but also that the many different parts will work together seamlessly. An automation integration partner will also assist with programming, physical adjustments and any other necessary configuration details. Testing to verify that the completed system works and meets operational requirements is often part of the integration process, as well. Proper selection, sizing, design, installation and integration of a conveying system is critical to successfully meeting production goals in any facility. Taking the time to gather accurate information and data and connecting with an experienced supply and integration partner will help identify the best conveying technology for your facility and bring the most efficiency and productivity to your process. Contact John Henry Foster for your conveying needs.