Companies focusing on a leaner supply chain are using gravity conveyors because of their sleek, modular and portable construction. Gravity conveyors cost less than automated ones, therefore are often used for more applications besides transport, from the manufacturing floor to the retail store. Gravity conveyors are generally designed without heavy, mechanical parts that can often break down, which can lead to added cost and wasted time when not operating properly.

Reducing travel time by using conveyors to bring goods to the picker is another lean goal. As travel time takes away from picking orders, the less touches and travel workers have to complete an order, the better. With smaller, singular online orders, combining them into a single travel instance can greatly reduce the time it takes to fulfill each order.

Gravity conveyors are also much quieter and energy efficient, which helps to reduce energy usage and costs. By being quieter, workers don’t need to wear ear protection, making them more comfortable in their job.

Best practices for conveyor implementation

Start with the endpoint in mind – analyze how much volume your facility will need to handle and the expected growth. Throw in seasonal fluctuations and product attributes to determine the size, length and strength (i.e. how much weight the conveyor needs to hold). Determine this information for now and in the future to incorporate anticipated growth.

Combine historical volume patterns with customer service requirements to uncover peak demand requirements, which can translate to number of cartons or boxes or pieces per hour or minute that will be required. The amount of cartons/boxes/products per minute determines the conveyor speed needed to fulfill orders on time.

Must-have features for gravity conveyors

Gravity conveyors can improve efficiency and increase throughput with minimal investment. Typically manufactured to order, gravity conveyors can be built in the exact length needed. This saves businesses time and money by eliminating the need to saw-cut sections to length. When selecting a gravity conveyor, make sure the vendor offers this capability, as cutting, deburring and installing these conveyors can be time consuming for inexperienced personnel.

Made of steel or aluminum for increased durability, gravity conveyors feature a variety of roller types, including skatewheel, wheel rail and ball transfer. Full-width rollers with ball bearings allow for maximum carton support. The full-width roller helps boxes track straighter. Steel is a great option for permanent conveyor lines that require a tough, durable frame. Aluminum works best when flowing lighter product, and allows for more portability due to its light weight.

The size, weight and conveying surface are all variables that must be considered for determining whether to use skatewheel or other roller type. Firm, flat bottoms are recommended for use with skatewheel. If cartons are susceptible to imprinting, you may want to look into roller options, or increase the amount of wheels per axle in the conveyor. Some items will not carry at all on skatewheel, such as containers with ring-banded bases, pails, drums with chines and most bagged items. Skatewheel performs best when flowing cartons or totes with solid, uniform surfaces.

Skatewheel is constructed of a series of staggered steel or aluminum wheels. Skatewheel is offered with steel or aluminum side channels. Transfers are a multidirectional material handling solution that helps position material precisely. Ball transfers are also useful for making tight turns when curves aren’t an option.

Other must-have features for gravity conveyors include:

  • Square-cut ends for permanent installations, notched ends for dropping onto beams and coped ends for temporary hook and bar layouts.
  • Choice between steel or aluminum construction. With aluminum, the conveyors are much lighter and thus more portable.
  • Height adjustability for ergonomic purposes.
  • Availability in curved (45 or 90 degrees) or straight segments.
  • End treatments should include package stops, impacts plates and hook and bars.

Gravity conveyors are ideal to use in cold storage environments because temperatures don’t affect their movement, making them suitable for refrigerated and frozen food processors and distributors. As companies grow and add more SKUs, gravity conveyors can be easily and quickly added to a facility to handle the increased volume.

Want to save money, time and eliminate waste? Use gravity conveyors in refrigerated and frozen food plants or distribution centers.