Warehouse Upgrades to Consider When Your Conveyor Keeps Needing Repairs
As any warehouse operations manager or distribution manager will tell you, unplanned downtime of critical systems due to equipment failure or surprise repair needs can be catastrophic.
Every minute that your sorter, AS/RS, conveyor, or other piece of equipment isn’t running is a minute that items and orders aren’t being processed, which will eventually translate into missed promised ship times, angry customers, and potentially lost money—all of which should make preventing unplanned downtime a top priority.
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While preventative, predictive maintenance plays an important role in staving off the risk of equipment suddenly breaking down, it cannot predict every event which might cause a system to shut down for repair. Aging equipment, machinery which is poorly suited for the product and inventory that it is expected to handle, and technology that is being pushed beyond its limits can all experience unexpected wear and surprise repair.
If you find that the conveyors in your warehouse are constantly breaking down unexpectedly and causing unplanned downtime for your operation, you’ve got two options. You can either continue living with the status quo, pumping money and time into repairs, or you can make the decision to identify the root cause making repairs so necessary and upgrade your systems to correct the issue.
Below, we outline a number of potential conveyor upgrades that you should consider if your equipment keeps breaking down unexpectedly or you are experiencing an increase in errors.
If product keeps falling into the sortation conveyor…
In older sliding shoe sorters, such as the UniSort V, a sliding shoe sits in the gap between two tubes; when activated, it will glide from one side of the sorter to the other in order to divert product as required. While the gap is typically small it can still allow debris and smaller products to get stuck or fall into the sorter.
And therein lies the problem: Every gap or exposed surface in the sorter(or really any piece of equipment) presents an opportunity for product to fall into the machine, where it can jam and damage the drivetrain or cause tubes to pop out of place and, occasionally, become damaged. In either case, the result is that the system must be shut down in order for a repair to take place.
This problem often stems from a poor fit between product and conveyor. For example, for an operation which in the past handled large boxed orders, a tubed conveyor may have worked perfectly well. But if the operation then switched over to processing smaller orders packed in polybags (due to a shift in consumer demand, for instance), that same old conveyor would not be well-aligned with the product change.
The key to resolving this issue is to upgrade the conveyor to bring it more in line with the product which it must convey. Converting from tubes to slats, for example, significantly reduces the gap in which product can fall.
If you’re seeing more side-by-sides and damaged product…
Many legacy accumulation conveyors rely on mechanical sensors in order to sense the weight of a product or package and guide product accumulation. This worked well in the past, when warehouses primarily processed larger and more consistent orders. Today, however, the rise of ecommerce has led to lighter, smaller, and more varied orders, which do not always play well with mechanical sensors.
Mechanical sensors, because they touch the product, can cause cartons to turn, slow down, become side-by-side with another carton, and stop in the middle of the conveyor, leading to jams, no reads, product breakage, and other exceptions during sortation and processing. This in turn reduces an operation’s efficiency, increases total order cycle time, and reduces profitability. If your operation leverages an aging Accuglide conveyor, you’re probably familiar with these issues.
Upgrading from mechanical sensors to photo eyes and solenoids can help to resolve this problem, as these components can more accurately recognize smaller and more varied packages. Just like the first tip above, the result is a better conveyor/product fit, which reduces the chance for errors.
If loading trucks has gotten more difficult…
In many facilities, loading docks are specifically designed so that the dock is elevated in relation to the truck. This allows the facility to leverage a gravity conveyor in order to load trucks and trailers. But as these gravity conveyors age—just like any other aging piece of equipment—they will begin to operate less and less efficiently.
Eventually, you will be faced with replacing your truck loading conveyor with something new. While simply replacing your existing gravity conveyor with a new one is an option, it may also make sense for you to make the switch from gravity conveyor to a powered truck loading conveyor, which will give you more control over the product and can help make your loading processes more efficient.
If your conveyor is breaking down more frequently…
As any conveyor or piece of equipment ages, it is going to experience wear and tear caused by years of friction. This is unavoidable. Routine maintenance and preventative care can help you get the most out of your conveyor and prolong its life, but eventually there will come a time when even preventative care won’t be enough to keep things running smoothly.
If you find that your legacy conveyor is breaking down much more frequently and causing your operation to experience more unplanned downtime, it may be time to bite the bullet and upgrade to a more modern piece of equipment that will be less prone to breakdowns and likely a better overall fit with your operation’s needs.
Deciding When to Upgrade
Ultimately, the decision to upgrade or replace your existing conveyor, or continue to repair it as you’ve been doing, needs to be a financial decision. Pursuing an upgrade or replacement will, of course, involve an investment of capital up front. That being said, doing so will also likely allow you to realize significant savings by reducing unplanned downtime, reducing maintenance costs, and even potentially adding functionality.
Working with a skilled and trusted systems integrator who can conduct a warehouse audit for your business can help you evaluate your options and choose the one that makes most financial sense for you to pursue.