Perhaps unaware of technological advancements, many managers automatically choose to continue purchasing stationary heavy metal fixed-length conveyors, a choice that may lead to added costs, process interruptions and, ultimately, to the equipment boneyard. Modular conveyor systems are perfect for many light- and medium-duty applications, offering manufacturers the advantages of quick and easy reconfiguration and, thereby, a high ROI as well as the ability to make smooth changeover transitions.
To help you determine whether the conventional fixed-length metal conveyor or the new modular conveyor is right for your application, here are 10 questions to ask before deciding on your next purchase:
1. Can I use one conveyor to handle materials at two or more locations? Portability and even the ability to easily move a conveyor out of the way may be highly desirable attributes that add to productivity while lowering long-term investment and maintenance costs.
"We have customers who get multiple uses from their modular conveyors by simply rolling them from one plant location to another," says Dynamic Conveyor''s Paul Kuharevicz. "In one case, a manufacturer of plastic products uses the modular conveyor to offload and cool (via water bath) molded products, and then uses the same conveyor in its packaging operation."
Mobility is also important to Gulf Coast Wire Products, a manufacturer of crawfish traps in Kaplan, LA, which uses a modular conveyor system to accommodate production changeovers in its injection molding operation more efficiently.
"One of the reasons we bought the modular conveyor system is that it is easily moved," says president Dan Duchamp. "Whether we need to change setups or service the injection molding machine, there''s no interference from the conveyor because you can simply slide it out of the way.The conveyor is lightweight enough for one person to move or even lift without a strain."
2. How easy is conveyor repair or belt replacement? Jammed drives and damaged belts and accessories can be time-consuming to replace. If a forklift whacks a metal conveyor, days or even weeks may be lost while the unit is welded or replaced.
Look for systems that can be repaired quickly and easily, without specialized labor. Modular conveyor sides, belts, flights, drives, and accessories are all separate units. If there is damage, replacing a section is as easy as snapping it into place. Also, consider the design of the conveyor belt. When belts constructed of interlocking links are damaged, you only need to replace the damaged section of the belt, making repair both easier and relatively inexpensive.
3. How quickly can I get replacement parts? With modular systems you can stock a few replacement modules or accessories according to your usage, as does Duchamp. Otherwise, you will want a conveyor system supplier who has replacement units and components on hand, and who provides you the assurance that these can be supplied within a few days or even overnight if required.
"Because the modules are standardized, it is easy for the manufacturer to inventory spares, so you know they''re going to be available," says Duchamp. "Another advantage of modular parts is that it''s quite practical for us to store some spare parts."
4. How easy is it to change the configuration if my needs change? With standardized modules available in a range of sizes and shapes, a modular system can provide manufacturers with important agility benefits. This is especially true for job shops and manufacturers who need to be able to retool a production line quickly to meet deadlines.
Truly modular conveyor systems can be reconfigured quickly and easily, thereby promising virtually unlimited reuse and efficiency. It is a simple matter to change belting, add flights, radius turns, and control accessories such as sensors, and shape these systems to optimize material handling operations.
Duchamp, whose operation integrates two DynaCon conveyors, says that when he had to extend the belting on one conveyor last year, the operation was simple and inexpensive.
5. What are standard maintenance requirements for my conveyor? Ease of maintenance and uptime are hand in glove. Both affect productivity and profits.
"One of the main reasons we bought a DynaCon conveyor system was because it is durable plastic [polypropylene and polycarbonate] and non-corrosive," says Duchamp. Conveyor systems of plastic construction are much easier to keep clean than metal ones. Plastic can be cleaned with water or detergents without risking rust, which may be very important to applications such as food handling.
Also, most conventional conveyors require regular lubrication in addition to continuous belt tensioning, whereas some modular conveyor systems are maintenance free. Belting on traditional conveyors is also more difficult and time-consuming to install and service, requires frequent realignment, and is more difficult to clean than plastic link-style belting.
6. Can I use the conveyor in my clean room? The requirement to meet clean room standards has become increasingly important for manufacturers in medical equipment, pharmaceutical, microelectronics, aerospace, and other industries. Nearly all standard conveyor systems have problems meeting this standard due to the lubricants used on their rollers or dust emitted from variable-speed motors using brushes.
"The primary need is to use brushless variable-speed motors," explains Kuharevicz. "The other basic need is to use self-lubricating moving conveyor parts." With brushless motors, DynaCon systems meet ISO Class-3 standards. "This type of system not only enables these manufacturers to handle Class-3 work, but can also step up production throughput," says Kuharevicz.
7. What belting options are available? Choose a vendor that offers belts in a wide range of styles and widths. DynaCon uses a self-tracking belt provided by Intralox, the largest manufacturer of modular plastic conveyor belts. Most styles are available in acetyl, polyethylene, and nylon, which provide excellent traction and wear characteristics and excellent performance and service life in food processing applications subject to USDA requirements, as well as many other applications.
Designs are available from 4-60 in. and for special configurations such as radius turns, as well as those especially suited to water bath, washdown, and impact applications. Styles include standard flat top, perforated, flush grid, raised rib, open grid, flat friction top, and diamond friction rubber.
It is also important to employ a system using a self-tracking drive system where many belts can run in the same drive path off the same drive, enabling users to change belts as needed or add or subtract belt drive flights at any time.
8. Can my system include configuration options like turns and inclines? A conveyor system should go wherever you need it to go, and by the most efficient pathway, even if it involves special turns, inclines/declines, and corresponding flights or lifts. Modular systems should offer a wide array of accessories and specialized-application modules that completely integrate with other modules, thereby providing users with added configuration latitude, dependable performance, and cost savings.
DynaCon systems offer an exclusive radius turn conveyor that flows flat or on an incline or decline. The system also provides for ascending and descending angles with bowl feeding and walk-under applications. Available electrical accessories include box filling via counting machine cycles, electronic eye for parts counting and placement, as well as electrical controls for indexing, reversing, and cutting conveyor power.
9. How comprehensive is warranty coverage? Purchase a conveyor system that carries a 5-year warranty on materials and workmanship as well as a warranty on the motor and other electric components. Also consider the warranty on belts. PVC belts, such as those used on many standard fixed conveyors, need to be replaced every 18 months. DynaCon provides a 5-year warranty on all belting.
10. What is the cost and method of installing the conveyor and related items? The answer will vary according to system, accessories, and integration requirements. Many fixed metal conveyors involve expensive, specialized engineering and possibly costly and time-consuming installation techniques such as welding.
Conversely, modular conveyor systems can offer robust features while eliminating special engineering and installation requirements. "Our DynaCon system was easy to install, easy to reconfigure, easy to move, and easy to maintain," says Duchamp. "An individual can reconfigure the full unit or just pick it up and move it out."
Kuharevicz says it can be very helpful to consult a modular conveyor system specialist before deciding on a new system. "I realize that some users, especially smaller ones, will think that consulting a specialist may be somewhat extravagant. But it will most likely pay off in ways that can affect a company''s profitability, agility, and future," he explains.