A globalized economy requires manufacturers and related industries to step up their game in terms of speed and efficiency. Overhead conveyor systems can help boost productivity, cut labor costs, and reduce risk of injury. Companies considering introducing paint or assembly line conveyors or other conveyors should evaluate the various conveyor options available and choose a solution that best fits the individual needs of their business.
Conveyor systems have been around since the 19th century, most commonly being found in mines during this period. In 1913, Henry Ford introduced assembly line conveyors to his auto manufacturing plants, greatly improving the safety and productivity of those operations. Since then, conveyor systems have found a variety of uses in manufacturing, painting, material handling, distributing centers, packaging, and other industries.
As facilities become increasingly automated, and as conveyor technology improves, the demand for conveyor systems is growing. According to Highbeam, after seeing a substantial drop after the 2008 financial crisis, conveyor systems sales have improved.
The Conveyor Equipment Manufacturers Association reports that shipments of conveyor systems in North America were up 10 percent between 2009 and 2010. More recent CEMA numbers show continuing growth, with February 2015 booked orders up 29.4 percent over February 2014 booked orders.
Why Conveyor Systems?
Conveyor systems provide a number of advantages to factories, warehouses, distribution centers and other facilities that incorporate them into their operations. Consider these advantages that overhead conveyor systems can provide:
- Labor costs – Because of the productivity gains assembly line conveyors provide, fewer workers will be needed. This allows companies to reduce their workforce accordingly or reassign workers to other areas, thus allowing them to obtain greater use from their workforce.
- Speed – A conveyor system provides companies with a quick and reliable means of transporting goods from one part of a facility to another. The continuous flow of material through the assembly line means work continues at a steady pace, improving productivity.
- Adjustable flow – Conveyor system speeds can be decreased or increased as conditions on the line dictate. The ability to adjust work flow to meet needs or accommodate conditions will help you increase productivity.
- Visibility – Items on assembly line conveyors are seen as they move through the facility. This gives workers a greater chance of spotting a possible flaw or defect in products.
- Safety – Because workers are not manually carrying items from place to place, their risk of injury is reduced. Work in process (WIP) operations can have parts delivered and lowered to an ergonomic level for the next step in the operation. This reduced risk can yield fewer sick days, worker’s compensation claims, lower insurance premiums, and other benefits.
Types of Conveyor Systems
Facilities managers have a variety of conveyor systems to choose from when selecting a system for their plants, warehouses, or other operations, including:
- Overhead conveyor systems – These conveyor systems can be either manual or powered (“Power & Free”) with containers or hooks that hang from the conveyor chain. These systems are used for moving heavy or odd shaped pieces for operations where materials need to be cleaned, painted, treated, etc.
- Power & Free systems incorporate both power and free conveyor chains in the conveyor system allowing stops, diverters lines, and accumulation lines. Overhead conveyor systems can handle loads from 1 lb to in excess of 10,000 pounds.
- Belt conveyor systems – The most well-known form of a conveyor system, belt conveyors consist of two or more pulleys with an endless loop wrapped around them. The pulleys are powered, causing the belt to move, and thus also moving the material on the belt. There are two general types of industrial belt conveyors – those used to move boxes inside factories and those used to move large bulk quantities of items such as ore, grain, etc.
- Pneumatic conveyor systems – Pneumatic conveyor systems use pipes or ducts that carry materials via a stream of air pushed through the system.
- Vibrating conveyor systems – These systems consist of a solid conveying surface flipped on its side to create a trough. These systems are commonly used in applications where cleaning is necessary, as well as in high heat environments.
- Flexible conveyor systems – These systems are operated on a conveyor beam and can be made to travel around obstacles. The objects conveyed by these devices sit directly on the conveyor or on containers placed on the conveyor.
- Vertical conveyors – These conveyor systems are used to lift or lower materials to different levels of a facility. These conveyors are often used in conjunction with horizontal conveyors to move materials through a facility.
- Overhead conveyor systems – These conveyor systems consist of an overhead chain that moves containers or hooks that hang from the chain. These systems are used for moving heavy or odd shaped pieces and for keeping products at eye-level in facilities. They’re also helpful for operations where materials need to be cleaned, painted, treated, etc.
Overhead systems are typically free systems that are moved by manual power, power systems with motors that move the conveyor chain, or power and free systems that incorporate both power and free conveyor chains in the conveyor system. Overhead conveyor systems typically handle light-duty jobs (1-75 lbs. per hook loading) medium-duty jobs (75-200 lbs. per hook loading) and heavy-duty jobs (200-1,200 lbs. per hook loading).
Work in Process Applications
From time to time, manufacturers, packagers, and warehouses will produce an excess product that needs to be stored while other products run through the system. New Power & Free accumulation conveyor systems can help conveniently store these products until they’re needed. Richards Wilcox Power & Free accumulation chain conveyors will automatically store and recall work in process items as needed.
Things to Consider When Choosing a Conveyor System
When picking a conveyor system for their facility, managers need to think about:
- Maximum weight of the product, as well as the maximum length, width, and height of the products being conveyed.
- Maximum product to be conveyed per shift/hour.
- What processes the product will undergo on the assembly line (baking, cleaning, curing, drying, chemical treatment, etc.) and how well various conveyor systems can withstand those processes
- Whether elevation changes are required through the process.
Managers should consider their operations’ needs and the services offered by various conveyor systems. Richards-Wilcox can help facilities managers assess those needs and suggest assembly line, finishing system conveyors or distribution center conveyors that will help improve productivity and safety, allowing them to gain a critical edge over rival companies in speed and capacity.