All types of warehouses across the world operate using a conveyor system. Whether it be a legacy system or newly updated system, the entire operation depends on it. In the past, system upgrade options were slim, and as the hardware aged, any improvements were timely and costly. Despite the inevitable, the need for a quality, accurate system is imperative in today’s day and age.
With the rise of e-commerce giants like Amazon and Walmart, enhanced technology is paving the future of how warehouses operate across the globe. Currently, there are three ways to upgrade an existing conveyor system: manually hard code updates; remove and replace pieces of the conveyor; or install a smart conveyor control system. Each system will do the job it was designed to do, but which one will perform best and be the most cost-effective—while standing the test of time?
The challenge with choosing a conveyor is finding a system which will match needed levels of performance while keeping up with business growth and changes. Accuracy levels, pick rate and throughput cost are all important metrics to look at when evaluating a system.
Accuracy is extremely important in a conveyor system, because it is an interconnected tool that affects every facet of an operation. In addition, a conveyor should streamline and enhance the pick process, allowing pickers to pick larger quantities in a shorter amount of time. Typically, the average throughput cost for a case of beer in a warehouse is about $0.40/case. With an efficient conveyor system, the cost can be lowered by $0.10/case, minimizing internal warehouse costs.
As we all know, change is inevitable and the need for an adaptive system is more crucial than ever. Having a system that can scale with business growth and address new warehouse challenges is highly valuable. It’s much easier to maintain an adaptive system over time, rather than removing and installing a new system whenever changes are needed.
Programmable Logic Controllers
The majority of conveyor systems use a Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) to control functions. A
PLC is hardcoded at the time of the installation and typically remains unchanged for its lifetime. While a benefit of a PLC is to install and program and leave it alone for the next 20 years, it’s also a downside, because technological advancements are not being leveraged.
Once a PLC reaches its limit, the two options are to either replace the PLC entirely, requiring a drastic change to the system, or discover where the PLC failed and fix that spot. Discovering and repairing the failed part is effective but does not largely extend the lifetime of a system. PLCs were invented before modern internet protocol systems and are able to handle inputs and outputs extremely fast at a local level; however, everything is hardwired on location.
Modern internet protocols and local server systems, not to mention cloud systems, are fast enough to power input/output for 80% of all conveyor systems installed in the world. A warehouse control system that interfaces with the PLC, warehouse management software and ERP system is essential for a flexible system.
On the other side of the spectrum are smart conveyor control systems that upgrade continuously to keep up with modern improvements. With systems starting at $400,000, implementing a conveyor system is not as expensive as it once was. These systems offer remote monitoring and the ability to add additional functionality, giving the user total control.
Modern motor driven roller (MDR) controllers can make accumulation, switching, merging and sorting decisions for multiple zones. They can be configured for many circumstances, such as low or zero pressure accumulation, slug, consistent gap control and package monitoring. The software can also be updated while the conveyor is running on old logic. This is a new feature that allows firmware upgrades in the background while running live locations, which makes switching between old and new logic during downtime fast and easy. This reduces on-site costs of programming personnel, which can be extremely expensive.
Smart Conveyor Systems Can Include Features Like:
- Quality Assurance Functionality: Ensure that the right product is delivered to the correct account. Each product that leaves the warehouse is recorded by image or an alternate method.
- Vertical Sortation: Experience higher throughput and accumulation density without giving up additional floor space. Adaptive conveyors allow for more design flexibility, depending on your warehouse layout.
- Warehouse Control System: Interface intelligently with multiple software systems and ensure that every facet of the warehouse is interconnected for seamless operations.
Smart conveyor systems introduce a new era of warehouse control. Warehouses are able to improve operational efficiency with technology that is constantly kept up to date. In addition, the training for new technology is easy, enabling employees to take on multiple jobs within the warehouse with minimal training. WMHS