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Keeping your conveyors running smoothly amid peak demand

07 March 2023

The strain of increased retail demand is amplifying existing material handling problems, but there are steps plants can take to keep their conveyor belts running smoothly during peak season, explains Adriano Parmesani

BEHIND THE well-oiled machine that is the courier, express, and parcel (CEP) sector lies a sophisticated, high-speed picking and packing system - one that relies on conveyor belts to store, sort, align, route, and pack goods ahead of delivery. 

These distribution and fulfilment centers operate at high speeds and high volumes. This is possible thanks to automation and advanced sortation systems. However, with companies regularly processing over a million items a day over peak periods, distribution facilities must be able to dynamically and reliably manage surges in demand. 

Ease of maintenance

While rigid sortation systems can enable high volume processing, businesses should consider belting solutions that are durable and easy to maintain and repair during peak demand. Different belts are often used depending on their application. For example, conveyor belts used in CEP applications are traditionally fabric based. However, plastic modular belts are being used increasingly, particularly for pre-sorting activities in smaller distribution centers.

Though conveyor belts generally require little maintenance, unforeseen problems can have a significant impact on throughput, so planning preventative actions ahead of spikes in demand is essential. 

When conveyor belts are damaged, it is usually visible. You may notice tears, cracks and frayed edges. Initial signs of damage can provide an indication of the installation’s overall health. Conveyor belts with failing joints caused by component damage or mistracking require immediate action. 

While there is no one size fits all solution, plant managers should look for service agreements with their belting partners that include 24/7 support. A sign of a good supplier is one that will change a belt quickly and offer training to allow operators to carry out emergency fixes.

In these situations, having something like a portable PML joining press is invaluable. This compact tool allows operators to quickly carry out on-site repair of all types of conveyor, power transmission, and timing belts with widths up to 600 mm without requiring compressed air or water cooling.

Elegant, efficient technology

Beyond maintenance, investing in breakthrough belting technologies can mitigate many of these issues in the first place. For example, using self-tracking fabric belts in sorters, sequencers and high speed induction systems will improve dimensional stability and centring, eliminating the need for additional tracking systems such as guides and profiles. These systems also come pre-tensioned, are antistatic and flame retardant.

Meanwhile, Habasit has developed two types of roller plates: machined and molded plates. These include rollers embedded into the surface, whose orientation can be adjusted depending on whether they’re being used for straight transfers, corners, or to control the speed of descent. What's more, their design means that these roller plates can be used for more than just gravity chutes, including everything from lift gates and skate wheel replacements to sidewalls.

What makes this range unique is that instead of being a continuous conveyor, the roller plates are made in sections which can be more easily replaced if damaged. So, instead of replacing an entire length of conveyor, which could be 52 feet (16 m) long, operators can swap out individual plates and rollers - minimising the risk of injury and reducing downtime anywhere from six days, to just six hours.

These points illustrate, that with the right mix of maintenance, technology and approach to handling parcels, distribution plants will continue to operate like a well-oiled machine, even during peak season.

Adriano Parmesani is industry segment manager of distribution centres for Habasit

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