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About the Author

Cliff Holste is Supply Chain Digest's Material Handling Editor. With more than 30 years experience in designing and implementing material handling and order picking systems in distribution, Holste has worked with dozens of large and smaller companies to improve distribution performance.

Logistics News

By Cliff Holste

June 26, 2013

Improving Conveyor System Efficiency Drives Higher Yield

Smart Software Increases DC Throughput Capacity

Increasing the throughput of a conveyor system usually means increasing equipment speeds. With 1000s of feet of conveyor and 100s of individual power units, this can be a daunting, time consuming and expensive task. An easier and much quicker solution is to update software and controls so that the conveyor equipment can physically handle more product. This approach is gaining favor thanks to advanced software and controls that permit higher product density per lineal foot of conveyor thus increasing the systems throughput capacity without increasing equipment speed.

There are two main areas where improving conveyor system product handling efficiency can be beneficial - the central merge, and the shipping sortation system.

The central merge is where conveyor lines transporting product from various receiving, picking, special processing areas as well as product being re-circulated by the shipping sorter, are collected into one main takeaway conveyor line feeding the sortation system. The number of lines being served by the central merge can be as few as 2 or 3 or up to a dozen or more. Each line automatically releases a slug (or train) of product one line at a time.

Holste Says:

There are two main areas where improving conveyor system product handling efficiency can be beneficial - the central merge, and the shipping sortation system.
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In older generation conveyor systems, in order to reduce the probability of jams at the merge, there is a built-in time delay (referred to as a “gap”) between slugs/trains amounting to several feet. These gaps, depending on length and release cycle frequency, can reduce system throughput by 10 to 15 percent. Material handling software engineers have developed more efficient merging logic that can greatly reduce the distance between slugs/trains.

The software contains precise timing and tracking logic, which “knows” the distance and travel time between lanes. The distance between slugs/trains is reduced to just a few inches regardless of line release sequence or cycle frequency. This logic allows a downstream lane to continue releasing for some time after an upstream lane has started to release thereby increasing the amount of product being merged.

Similar software logic when applied to the shipping sortation system, allows the incremental space needed between individual cartons to be reduced to the absolute minimum required by the sorting equipment, thereby optimizing the throughput capacity of the sorting system.

Once the software is installed, adjusting the distance between slugs/trains and individual case spacing can be done at the control station by changing the appropriate parameters via a few simple keystrokes. This makes experimenting to determine the optimum spacing under various operating conditions easy to do.

According to industry experts, companies who upgrade to this more efficient software can expect a 15 to 20 percent increase in throughput capacity without increasing equipment speed.

However, it is important to note that operating a conveyor system at the highest possible product density level requires that the equipment be well maintained, and that products being conveyed conform to physical specifications. Improperly operating equipment, and/or conveying products that are out of specification, can cause an excessive amount of jams and system downtime negating some of the efficiency benefits.

Final Thoughts

The ability to boost conveyor system throughput by minimizing gaps and product spacing, as opposed to speeding up the entire conveyor system, helps extend the life of the equipment, while reducing maintenance and energy costs. But the real payoff comes in productivity gains resulting from a more efficient system operation.


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