So You Wanna Buy a Conveyor System

Nov. 16, 2016

Purchasing a conveyor system can be a daunting task for an experienced buyer. It can be overwhelming for a new buyer. You need to provide some basic, yet critical information to get a quote.  The principle that applies to this process is "The question you ask determines the answer you get." The more accurate the information, the more accurate the quote will be. Correct information from the outset will simplify the process and lessen the chance for misinformation down the line.

The first question to answer is what is the product to be handled. Surprisingly, this simple question is sometimes difficult to answer. In general, the conveyor system company needs to know the maximum and minimum dimensions for the products handled. Usually, this information is relayed in terms of composite dimensions, which means that largest and smallest dimensions in terms of length, width, height, and weight do not actually exist in one specific product. If possible, it's best to provide the actual dimensions of all the products conveyed and let the conveyor supplier discern the important data. Pay particular attention to the bottom surface of the product because that is the actual conveying surface. If there are protrusions from the bottom, that will change the type of conveyor quoted. Most conveyor suppliers will quote with a disclaimer that states that all products conveyed must have smooth, flat, conveyable bottoms. It is important to be aware that even a small protrusion can affect conveyability.

Rate of handling is the next piece of the conveyor specification puzzle. This information can be more difficult to obtain than the product data and is often misunderstood. The rate of handling is the number of units conveyed in a given period of time. For the most part, the important statistic for planning a conveyor system is the "peak" rate of handling. More often than not, this will be defined in "X" number of units per minute.

Many times, customers will state the handling rate based on an average rate over a shift or a day of production. The system may be required to handle spurts of production, which make the instantaneous or peak rate higher than the average rate. Although you average 35 miles per hour in your car, it must be capable of going 70 miles per hour for highway driving. The same is true for your conveyor system. It has to perform at the maximum rate. The rate of handling should include anticipated increase in production to meet future demands. Many times a customer will take the rate of the slowest piece of equipment on a production line and use that as the rate of handling. The overall rate will never exceed the rate of the slowest piece of equipment in a production line. Be careful not to overstate the rate dramatically because that will raise the cost of the equipment without giving a return of that investment.

What are you conveying and how fast are you conveying it will answer a lot of questions about your conveyor system. There are a few more items to consider. Are there environmental considerations to be taken into account? In this case, I am not speaking of the global environmental concerns but rather the location of the equipment. Temperature and moisture will have an effect on the conveyor and should be taken into account during the specification phase.

Obviously, if you are considering a conveyor system, there is some type of return on the investment. It could be labor savings, increased production, or improved product quality. When looking at your return, make sure that there is not one item creating a large percentage of your cost. Assume that 98% of your product is 36" wide or less and weighs less than 250 pounds. You have one seasonal item, which equals 2% of your production that is 48" wide and weighs 1500 pounds. That one item will result in a different class of conveyor and could make your investment increase by 50%. It may make more sense to handle that item separately from the conveyor system and thereby reducing the overall investment.

As a customer, the last piece of information required will be a result of self-analysis. While the conveyor supplier can tell you type of equipment you will need, he cannot tell you what your commitment to the equipment will be. Conveyor systems can range from being relatively simple to extremely complicated. I know that I have purchased electronic equipment because it has all types of functions that I never learned how to use. In retrospect, I didn't get a big bang for my buck. A conveyor system has to be maintained and requires an investment of time by the personnel that will operate the equipment. That investment of time is proportionate to the complexity of the system. The more functions, routing options, and sophisticated the control sequencing, the more the manpower investment will be for the system. Don't buy the complex system if you are not going to develop the expertise to understand and maintain it. In short, you can make the system too complicated for your work force to operate. Gauge what your commitment will be and purchase accordingly.

I hope this will you assist you when going to buy a conveyor. Oh, I left out the most important thing to do when purchasing a conveyor system. Call TKF!

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