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Cliff Holste

Supply Chain Digest
Material Handling Editor

Logistics News - Sorting It Out

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.

February 22, 2017

Sorting It Out : Training & Maintenance are Key Factors to Reliable Conveyor System Performance

A Properly Used and Well Maintained Conveyor System Consumes Less Energy While Providing Higher Levels of Throughput


The conveyors and associated material handling systems that transport products through the DC require regular attention. Unfortunately, busy operations managers often don’t give much thought to the conveyors they use every day until there’s a breakdown. Then production stops, employees are idle, shipments are late, customers are upset, and conveyors suddenly become the center of attention.

Holste Says...

Regular training helps to familiarize employees who use and depend on the conveyors to understand the equipment they are using and take ownership of its care.

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A major cause of conveyor system irregularities and unnecessary maintenance cost is failure to train employees on the proper use of the conveyor equipment. Improper use contributes to poor performance. One of the most common examples is using the conveyor to transport items that are non-conveyable based on size, weight, and configuration, including damaged containers, and containers that have protruding parts or loose flaps/straps. The result can cause interruption in flow due to jams, equipment damage and increased risk of injury to operations personnel.

Another common example of improper use occurs in picking operations. When the pick belt stops, often pickers will continue to pick and place cartons/totes onto the dead conveyor belt. There are at least two major problems with this practice that can potentially damage the conveyor equipment; increase operating cost, and lowering system throughput. 

First – pick belts are not designed to be started with a fully loaded belt. Even though the conveyor bed sections, and floor supports are designed for a fully loaded condition; the practice over time will cause permanent damage to critical components of the drive train contributing to premature failure of the conveyor’s power unit and conveying belt. 

Second – when the downstream accumulation conveyor receives a large slug of cases from picking, the slug proceeds past a full line sensor, “blocking” the sensor long enough to cause a false signal to be transmitted to the control system. The control system “thinks” the accumulation conveyor is full, and signals the in-feed conveyors (from picking) to prematurely shutdown. This will then setup an intermittent start/stop sequence. Once in this mode, the system is consuming considerable more power (kilowatts of electricity) as a result of the repeated starting and stopping, and at the same time handling fewer cases per minute. 

Regular training helps to familiarize employees who use and depend on the conveyors to understand the equipment they are using and take ownership of its care. Conversely, lack of training and routine maintenance contributes to poor system performance and operational problems. It’s fair to say then that by doing routine training and maintenance inspections unexpected costly repairs can be avoided. 

A good example would be spotting a frayed belt or noticing that a belt lacing is coming apart. These are red flags. They indicate that costly repairs will be needed in the near future – probably at the worst possible time. 

By knowing how to spot issues, employees become the first line of defense for minimizing problems and reducing cost. Waiting to make repairs until a conveying system breaks down is a costly mistake.  

Final Thoughts

Of course, wherever conveyor equipment is installed, there will be blind spots and places that are difficult to get to. These areas are breeding grounds for expensive repairs and operational issues. They are easy to ignore. But understand that by doing so, you are creating an emergency waiting to happen.

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