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Material Handling
Friday | 11 February, 2011 | 10:32 am

A simpler approach

By Lauren Duensing

January 2011 - Sometimes, the simplest approach is the best solution, as was the case for S&C Electric Co., Chicago, which was experiencing considerable difficulty and production downtime because of a problematic conveyor belt system. "Previously, our laser systems had only been offered with hinged steel belt conveyors," says Dennis Hattan, director of production equipment standards, engineering and maintenance at S&C. "We had frequent problems with this style of conveyor on our laser systems. We were replacing problematic components or rebuilding on an annual basis."

An encounter at the 2009 Fabtech show in Chicago a year later brought Hattan and Mayfran International’s Paul Tamlin together. Tamlin previously owned a shuffle conveyor business, which Cleveland-based Mayfran bought out. He now serves as the company’s designer and product manager.

"We had customers out there who were looking for a better solution," says Tamlin. "S&C leaves their machine running all weekend with no operator present, so it has to stay running. The reliability of the shuffle conveyor compared to the standard steel or rubber conveyor options is far and beyond, in large part due to the shuffle conveyor’s simpler design and fewer components." According to Tamlin, one major advantage to Mayfran’s shuffle conveyor for lasers is that it does not have a carry-over problem, which can occur when material carried by a belt conveyor comes back on the bottom side of the conveyor and drops off on the underside. "This creates a mess and also a fire hazard," says Tamlin. Because the shuffle conveyor does not have a belt, it eliminates this problem.

Why invest in the upgrade?
Conveyors that run continuously maximize productivity and revenue. Some companies may have a working conveyor, but after experiencing significant periods of downtime and a multitude of repairs, they might consider the upgrade to be worth the investment. "Some places have a conveyor that works, but the downtime is costing them $500 a week, which adds up," Tamlin says. "With a more efficient conveyor, they can pay for the upgrade in 24 weeks."

"Reliability is key," says Andrew Porter, vice president of technology and design at Porter Corp., Holland, Mich. Before changing to Mayfran’s shuffle drive conveyor system, "non-replaceable parts would wear, drift out of place and get tangled in the moving conveyor," says Porter. "We had to stop operations to pound the pins back into place. The conveyor chain pin heads would wear, causing the pins to drift out, getting caught up in the gears and forcing the operator to power down the conveyor. With the conveyor not working, scrap and small parts would fall down into the machine and had to be fished out of the bottom so parts could be delivered to production. Maintenance routinely had to rework the conveyor while the machine was down only to find the system down again later." After switching to the shuffle system, Porter adds, "Our operator is happy and overall morale throughout the company is boosted. The material comes out the end where it’s supposed to, and he doesn’t have to go fishing for pins under tables due to an inefficient design with too many moving parts," he says.

One of the main conveyors commonly used today is a steel belt conveyor. "There are 800 to 100 components in contact with the scrap when using a steel belt conveyor," says Tamlin. "The shuffle only has one, which is the tray. So, from a simplicity standpoint, it’s preferable to have one component rather than 1,000 having to rotate and pivot with an abrasive, granular strap." The overall process runs smoother, allowing operators higher output without the need for frequent downtime for repairs or maintenance.

A collaborative effort
Typically, conveyor belts are not expected to be innovative, and some customers feel options are limited. In the case of Mayfran and S&C Electric, the relationship became an exchange of ideas and solutions. "We worked with Mayfran to develop a better solution for lasers," says Hattan. "After a year of collaborating, Tamlin helped us design a new configuration of Mayfran’s shuffle conveyor, which we installed on our heavily loaded laser system." This laser is critical for producing needed parts for S&C. The conveyor has been in operation for about seven months, and the payback to date has covered the initial cost of the upgrade, says Hattan. "Fifty percent of the downtime we were experiencing with our laser was attributable to conveyor issues. Our equipment and maintenance technicians were performing preventative maintenance tasks more frequently," he says.

In addition to making back the initial costs of upgrading, Hattan says the company has achieved its goal of minimal down time for the conveyor and reaped other benefits, as well. "The improved equipment reliability has prevented us from using costly outsourcing or overtime to meet part requirements for our high-demand products" says Hattan. S&C is considering the purchase of another laser conveyor. "Mayfran has been very collaborative in helping us find a solution to our laser conveyor problems," says Hattan. "The new design of the shuffle conveyor to replace the current version on our laser is expected to be more reliable and become a standard for our future laser conveyor needs." Mayfran is pursuing this niche market for lasers, and it’s been a win-win situation for everyone involved, he says.

More than a fad
The shuffle conveyor system was designed and patented in 1999 and has been solving conveying problems for manufacturing companies since then. "The laser industry is just one niche we’ve moved into in the last year, and it’s gaining popularity because of how simple it [the design] is," Tamlin says. I have a strong maintenance background and wanted to create a conveying system for customers that reduced their machine downtime, which meant increased profits for the customer. If your machine is not running, it’s not making you money."

Reliable and no-fuss laser conveyor options are necessary as customers seek to run their machines more often. "We ran our machine all the time, and it stopped when it was broken, which was more often than it should have," Porter says. "Now, it just doesn’t break." Porter adds his company, like many others, is running myriad operations simultaneously and making sure the conveyor systems run smoothly is "small when compared to the magnitude of things we’re doing here every day, but every little bit counts," he says. "It’s a processing fix in our factory that has reduced frustration with our maintenance staff and operations team, and that translates with management because they don’t have to tell customers their shipments are going to be late." Porter emphasizes the need to maintain deadlines and customer confidence. "We don’t have to delay our products to our customer--they want it when you say you’re going to deliver. We’re in the architectural building products business. Our customers need us to meet those deadlines," he says. MM

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