Working with a Systems Integrator: Lifecycle Support
After taking a design build all the way from Discovery & Analysis, through Design, and ultimately through the Implementation, you might believe that the project is done. Case closed, onto your next business challenge. Right?
Wrong. Even though implementation might seem like the final phase in a design build, the truth of the matter is that it isn’t. Implementation leads you into the final phase of your project: Lifecycle Support.
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After your facility is built and your systems are up and running, there will eventually and inevitably be some issues that arise. That’s just to be expected when you are working with a system with a lot of moving pieces. From System Audits to Sorter Rebuilds to general maintenance, a quality systems integrator will be someone who helps get your system back online and works to keep it running smoothly.
The Longest Phase in the Design Build Process
Lifecycle support, by nature, is the longest phase in the design build process, lasting from the moment the system is handed over to the client all the way throughout the life of the system. During this long period of time, a quality systems integrator will help you keep your system running optimally.
Lifecycle support will of course mean different things to different operations, wholly dependent on your facility (slotting process, storage, etc.), the technologies you utilize (sorters, ASRS, etc.), and the systems that are in place to make everything work (gap generation, etc.). That being said, there are certain things that will always fall into this phase of the design build.
Regardless of the systems that you have in place in your facility or operation, every so often you should consider conducting a system audit. Why? Regularly conducting audits of your technologies and systems will allow you to catch relatively minor issues (requiring minor repairs) before they turn into catastrophic issues (requiring major repairs, and downtime in your facility).
There is no way of knowing when an issue might arise in your system. For that reason, it is usually recommend that an audit be conducted at least once every 12 months. The system should be assessed while running so that all moving parts can be observed. If a component is not performing properly, repair or replacement will be recommended.
Some of the many components reviewed during an audit include:
- Chain stretch, skew, and tension
- Condition of carrier tubes and pusher shoes
- Guide alignment
- UHMW and novex wear
- Chain guide and pin guide wear
- Overall condition of switch components and switch alignment
- Sprocket wear
- Air pressure
- Check noise levels and leaks in reducers
- Overall cleanliness
- Condition of drive belts
- Determine if the system will benefit from upgrades; for example, a new carrier flight assembly in a sorter
Additionally, if your system is more than 10 years old, you have neglected preventative maintenance, your system is experiencing increased downtime, or you need to replace wear components in your system more frequently, we would recommend that you conduct an audit.
Why is it so important to conduct an audit once your system is 10 years old? For a number of reasons. The obvious reason is that, by year 10 of a system’s life, there are bound to be mechanical issues (wear and tear, etc.) that are impacting efficiency. Would you run a car for 10 years without ever bringing it in for a checkup? No. You shouldn’t do that with your facility’s mechanization either!
Beyond this, 10 years is a long period of time to pass without any changes occurring in an organization. Over the course of those 10 years, your operation probably went through countless changes in terms of the product you handle (size, quantity, etc.), the clients you serve, and maybe even the businesses your organization owns.
Acquisitions or divestitures, especially, can change the landscape of any company, as this will have a huge impact on the products handled and the clients served. For example, if your system was built to handle only retail shipments 10 years ago, chances are that today you are servicing ecommerce orders that, by their nature, are significantly smaller than the materials that your system was originally designed to handle.
By updating the design of your system to meet these current needs, you can potentially increase efficiency, productivity, and improve your bottom line through cost reductions and most importantly improved customer service.
In some cases, your sorter will need more than an audit to keep it operating smoothly. Sometimes, you will need to conduct a rebuild in order to prolong the life of your system.
In most cases, sorter rebuilds are extremely time sensitive, because they need to be scheduled around the hours that the system needs to be in service for normal operations. Otherwise, there will be unnecessary downtime, leading to loss of productivity and profits.For this reason, if your sorter needs to be rebuilt, your integrator will identify the parts that need to be repaired or replaced during an audit. They will then ensure that all parts and pieces are on hand prior to the rebuild. Often, a rebuild can take place over the course of a weekend without any interruption to your operations, but this will of course be dependent on your schedule.
Some typical repairs that take place during a rebuild can include:
- Carrier chain replacement
- Replacement of damaged tubes and pushers
- Replacement of chain and pin guides
- Installation of new alignment guides
- Replacement of novex pads
- Replacement of damaged switch components, UHMW wear guides, and blocks
- Replacement of worn sprockets
- Repair of carrier chain oiling system
- Alignment of switches, including photo eyes and proxes
- Tensioning of carrier chain
Is a sorter rebuild something that your internal maintenance crew can tackle on its own? It’s possible, but bear in mind that sorters are often the most complicated parts of any operation. They are the fastest moving components of most systems, they have the most moving parts, there is often software involved, etc. This means that tolerances are much higher; if something is off, even slightly, it can cause major issues when the sorter is pushed back online. Because rebuilds are often so time-sensitive to pull off, it usually makes the most sense to reduce your exposure to risk and leave them to your integrator to complete.
The Bottom Line
Lifecycle support is, by nature, an ongoing process that is necessary to keep your systems operating once your facility is built and your systems are online.
By regularly conducting system audits, you will be able to identify problems before they become major headaches that bring downtime to your system, and by conducting system rebuilds as necessary to fix issues and upgrade your system, you can substantially increase the life of your systems and technologies.