As processors design factories to grow and automate production, it’s easy for them to focus on the islands of production in their systems (i.e. the expensive equipment that actually makes the end product) and overlook the equipment that transfers material between these islands. By this, we don’t mean they forget they need conveyance equipment. Rather, we mean they easily prioritize other systems and consider transfer systems last.
EPC contractors often make the same mistake. Too often, material handling gets placed low on the list of priorities. As a result, these systems often get assigned to the lowest bidder, and the company ends up with cheap machinery at their plant, machinery which becomes an unprofitable bottleneck when it breaks down.
Examples exist in other industries of the consequences to companies that fell into this trap. In the pellet industry, for example, several plants failed within the past few years primarily due to bad conveyors. Production could never reach a profitable level, and the plants had to close.
To prevent such disasters in your industry, we suggest professionals consider transfer and material handling systems early in the process of designing a processing plant. Processors cannot expect production will run smoothly otherwise.
Evaluating Material Handling Systems
When evaluating material handling systems, be aware of horsepower and quality. To keep operational costs low, producers will want to find the most efficient systems possible. High horsepower means high energy costs, which will lower your overall profitability.
You will find that mechanical conveyors are much more efficient than pneumatic conveyance systems. Pneumatic systems require 5-10 times as much power as mechanical ones. We’ve seen instances where they require 15 times as much. This is because pneumatic systems are naturally inefficient: energy is spent moving air, not just material.
For materials with inconsistent sizes and shapes, pneumatic systems aren’t the best choice. Pneumatic conveyance systems are best for dry powders with consistent characteristics, not plant materials or materials that vary in size, shape, and density.
Of the types of mechanical conveyors available, belt and drag conveyors will meet most of your transfer needs. The main advantages of belt conveyors are that they require little maintenance and can lower initial costs. On the downside, they are less efficient than drag conveyors, they cannot convey materials at a steep angle, they do not contain dust, and they leave tailings (material that sticks to the belt and falls off underneath the conveyor).
The advantages of drag conveyors are that they are very efficient, they can be enclosed for dust-tight or dust-controlled performance, and they can convey material at steep angles (up to vertical). The disadvantages of drag conveyors are that they may require more maintenance than belt conveyors, and they tend to cost more upfront.
The second problem processors must beware of when selecting a conveyor is quality. It doesn’t matter which conveyor system you purchase, if it’s built on the cheap, you can expect poor performance, high installation costs, unexpectedly high structural support costs, high operational costs, and more downtime. You should only purchase equipment from manufacturers who back up their machinery with strong warranties and whose business model isn’t built around spare parts.
As for what else you should look for in a material handling system:
- Cleanliness: By containing dust, you’ll eliminate hazards, and employees will spend less time pushing brooms.
- Structural Supports: Supports are often quoted separately from conveyors. Many conveyors aren’t built with strong boxes and therefore need many supports. (We build our SMART Conveyors™ with strong sidewalls, requiring far fewer supports than many comparable conveyor systems.)
- Shipping and Installation Costs: Modular construction means fewer shipments and faster installation time.
- Modular Design: A modularly designed system will allow you the ability to easily modify the layout – at installation or anytime in the future.
If you need guidance regarding material handling systems, BE&E has you covered. We offer EPC-level service for material handling systems and can equip your facility with efficient, state-of-the-art receiving, storage, and conveyance systems. Contact us!
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