Conveyor Systems Health is Directly Connected to the Health of Your Employees
|Bryan Gionet – Author|
Systems Support Manager
As an employee of Conveyco for 8+ years, my team and I have preformed many conveyor system rebuilds and sold millions of conveyor parts. Along this journey I have read many maintenance and sorter rebuild articles. One thing that has always stood out to me, all these articles sound the same.
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I don’t want this to be another “importance of systems maintenance article” where I talk about how much money your company can potentially lose if you are down over an x amount of time.
In this blog I would like to outline the catastrophes, preventable mishaps and stress that Conveyor Systems can cause everyone in the distribution center. This may sound like a sales pitch, but a well maintained conveyor system improves the well being of everyone in the distribution center.
Unfortunately, many of us have been in distribution centers where System Maintenance is neglected and cleanliness is a mitigating factor in the correlation between the health of the system and the well being of the employees that operate it. I have witnessed equipment that is well beyond its life expectancy and not in every case but quite a few, these places can be dirty and poorly lit. In some cases to make things worse, if the equipment is overdue for maintenance, most likely the employees are experiencing some really loud banging, scraping or grinding noises. This type of environment not only takes a toll on the system, but on the employees who are hired to run and maintain them.
Many people don’t notice that the amount of stress and even bodily harm the noises can cause. You’re probably questioning bodily harm, but unfortunately it’s true. I know a merge operator that worked for 20 years next to a 30 year old Sliding Shoe Sorter. She worked facing the conveyor all day preventing boxes from entering the sorter side by side. No one knew she had a hearing problem until the day we finished rebuilding the sorter.
The first thing she said was “It’s so much quieter”. Then she told me how she suffers from hearing loss in her right ear, the one that was in the direction of the Shoe Sorter. I can’t count how many times I have heard the phrase “Wow, this sorter is so quiet”. After witnessing this first hand I started to take notice something extraordinary yet so elementary; the employees seemed more relaxed and eager to do work than prior to the sorter rebuild. They no longer had to yell to their co workers around the sorter, the mood was uplifted and I can only imagine how much productivity was increased. This is when I noticed that sound level in the distribution center played a big factor in employee’s stress level and their overall physical health.
Physical condition of your conveyor system can cause stress to the employees in the warehouse in many different ways. In one instance, you see employees pushing product on accumulators that have product getting hung up on dead zones.
Dead zones can become a problem when a completely new position is created. Now you have a portion of your labor force dedicated to running around the conveyor system to physically handle hung up and jammed cases. Companies that allow these types of issues to persist don’t realize that over time it will become increasingly more challenging to maintain the system and cause preventable undue stress to the maintenance manager and his or her staff.
Employees that deal with this day in and day out over time will come to believe this is the norm. This type of “norm” is unacceptable.
This took a distribution center that has the capacity of doing over 100,000 cases a day down to 0 cases for 2 days. From a dollars and cents perspective this was a catastrophic event in lost revenue. Forget about the money and customer service for a minute, think about all of the stress it caused all of the employees involved. There probably wasn’t one person that didn’t feel the repercussions from this event. The logistical nightmare this caused is unfathomable on a mental and physical level. This company lost millions of dollars from this event, true, but it also created an enormous burden on the people involved.
Maintenance could have played a much larger role in preventing this event with a minimum investment compared to the money that was lost and more importantly the stress that was incurred by the people depended on most at the critical point in the supply chain.
I really enjoy the material handling industry and working for a systems integrator. I feel the satisfaction when walking a system with a customer discussing issues that they are having and coming up with solutions to fix problems and make improvements, not only to the system but to the people who operate them as well. It’s frustrating to me when walking through these older systems when it seems like the equipment is being held together by duct tape and gorilla glue. You talk about all of these wonderful things that you can do for their operation like integrating the Spanish language module for their pick to voice system to help the Latin American employees out with order selection. The facilities manager stares at you and sarcastically says “Yeah right, how much does that cost”.
He/she then exhibits his frustration on how little he has to keep the place running. I understand that in some cases times are tough for many companies and a tightening of the belt needs to occur. However, the investments in having a well maintained system will not only pay you back 10 fold in up time but also improve the health of the employees in the warehouse.