Keep Conveyors Moving During Your Busy Season

In most distribution centers and manufacturing facilities, the conveyor system is the backbone of operations. Any downtime can add up quickly, potentially costing a company thousands of dollars or more for every minute the conveyor is inoperable. Fortunately, careful peak season planning can avoid unnecessary downtime.

1. Conduct a full systems assessment.
In many facilities, activity swells from October through the end of the year. In other industries, peak periods fluctuate with seasonal trends and consumer demand. Nothing is worse than experiencing an unexpected downtime in the midst of your busy season. Luckily, there are a few simple steps you can take to ensure your systems are ready to meet the challenge of increased demand.

First, review and test your back-up plan for outages. It is important to ensure that your employees are properly trained in equipment failure procedures. Next, simulate a system outage to test your systems’ capabilities and overall preparedness. It’s also a good idea to contact your original equipment manufacturer (OEM) for an annual assessment to keep you informed about any necessary repairs, part replacements, or upgrades needed to keep your operation running at peak efficiency.

2. Inventory critical replacement parts.
Take the time to inventory only the most critical replacement parts, and make sure you have a dependable supplier who inventories the rest. This will help you avoid extended downtime caused by not having easy access to replacement parts.

For example, some common problem areas on conveyor systems include:
Motors- During your busy season, motors can wear out faster. Make sure you listen for any unusual noises, like whining or grinding during operation which may signal a deeper problem with your motor.

Belts- Conveyor belt lacing can wear down or tear during periods of increased demand. When items or packages begin to track to one side of the conveyor, this is typically a sign that a belt is loose and you may need to readjust the tension, or replace the belt.

Drive-O-rings- O-rings are used in a variety of conveyors. Broken O-rings on your line shaft can affect your power transmission, so it’s important to routinely inspect and replace them.

Drive and tail pulleys- During periods of increased use, material can build up on the pulleys, causing them to become misaligned or loose. Once pulleys become worn down, it’s important to replace them to maintain proper traction.

Couplings- The couplings used between motors, gearboxes and line shafts on roller conveyors can wear out easily, but are typically a cost-effective item to replace.

Powered rollers and skate wheels- Powered rollers and skate wheels can break when subject to sudden changes or increased weight. If packages are hand loaded onto the belt, there is a strong possibility that the packages might be thrown and dropped onto the belt causing damage.

Air bags and brake pads- The air gap between the brake disc and brake pads is critical to maintain proper operation, and it must be checked and adjusted frequently, in order to ensure reliable brake operation. It’s also important that you monitor your pad’s thickness and replace it if it wears enough to be too thin for safe operation.

3. Plan ahead with preventive maintenance.
Preventive maintenance is your key to avoiding unnecessary system outages. A good preventative maintenance plan includes regular inspections, keeping an accurate parts inventory, maintenance log, and properly training your staff.

4. Implement a routine checklist.

Regular conveyor maintenance is critical to maintaining dependable day-to-day operations and avoiding costly repairs. While regularly scheduled maintenance is generally performed outside of normal hours of operation to avoid production interference, visual inspections can be performed regularly by machine operators or designated maintenance staff.

5. Walk, look and listen to your conveyor systems.
It’s important to inspect your equipment daily to look for signs that maintenance is needed. Clues such as oil drippings, belt shavings and unusual noise can indicate a worn or failing part. To ensure your conveyor system is ready to meet the demands of your peak season, plan to conduct a full-scale maintenance evaluation from cleaning to lubrication and inspection of all conveyor elements.

To maintain peak operating efficiency, the following conveyor system components should be inspected regularly on a weekly, monthly and quarterly basis depending on the type of equipment you have and its overall condition:

  • Drives and Motors
  • Take-up systems
  • Control equipment
  • Belting
  • Pulleys
  • Troughing idlers
  • Return idlers
  • Tail sections
  • Impact-loading equipment
  • Chutes
  • Skirting
  • Belt scrapers
  • Equipment guards
  • Covers/ Conveyor Netting
  • Walkways
  • Structure
  • Transfer stations

Example of Basic Conveyor Maintenance Checklist

Source: Cisco Eagle Material Handling

Component Suggested Action Frequency
Motor Check Noise Monthly
Check Temperature Weekly
Check Mounting Bolts Monthly
Reducer Check Noise Monthly
Check Temperature Monthly
Check Oil Level Quarterly
Drive Chain Check Tension Quarterly
Lubricate Weekly
Check for Wear Quarterly
Sprockets Check for Wear Quarterly
Check Set Screws & Keys Quarterly
Belt Check Tracking Monthly
Check Tension Monthly
Check Lacing Weekly
Bearing - pulleys and rollers Check Noise Monthly
Check Mounting Bolts Quarterly
V-belts & O-rings Check Tension Monthly
Check for Wear Monthly
Checke Sheave Alignment Monthly
Structural General: Check all bolts for tightness Monthly

Source: Intelligrated

Conveyor Maintenance Technician Protocol
The following procedure lists 4 main areas technicians should focus on during their daily inspection.

Noise
Regularly walk both sides of your equipment while it is in use. Listen for unusual noises when the conveyor is running that may signal that there is a misaligned sprocket, belt, failed drive or bearing.

Litter
Closely inspect your systems and look for signs like oil drippings, shavings or dust that may indicate premature wear, a misaligned belt, or an oil leak.

Loads
Make sure that your conveyors aren’t overloaded. To avoid premature wear, ensure that your conveyors are only transporting items your OEM or vendors define as conveyable.

Operators
Make sure that all safety procedures and equipment regulations are followed. Maintenance workers should be trained to report any unsafe operating practices by personnel, in addition to identifying dangerous conditions of equipment.

Taking the time to evaluate your system, conduct necessary repairs and plan ahead can help you avoid costly repairs in the future and keep your operations running smoothly during your busy season.

Sources:

“Prep for the Holidays with These Material Handling Maintenance Tips” Bastian Solutions

“Is Your Material Handling System Ready for Peak Season?” Intelligrated

“Conveyor Safety and Preventative Maintenance” Odesie

“Walk, Look and Listen: How to Maintain Your Conveyor System Like a Pro” Intelligrated

“Basic Conveyor Maintenance Checklist” Cisco-Eagle Inc.