Conveyor technology: Are you thinking differently?

With new distribution requirements and more investment in automation underway, Modern set out to find how readers are now approaching the use of conveyors and sortation systems.
By Bob Trebilcock, Executive Editor
April 01, 2013 - MMH Editorial

Is distribution changing?
There is little question that distribution requirements are changing. Grocery store chains and big box retailers are receiving mixed-SKU pallets that are designed for specific aisles in a store. Retailers that once received full pallets of product once a week or month are now receiving a few cartons every day.

Distribution centers are handling more individual items than ever. In fact, nearly 44% of respondents agreed that their distribution requirements are changing. While this is not true for every industry, only 4% of respondents disagreed with that statement.

Given the changes in requirements, we asked if that changing landscape is impacting the use of conveyor.

On the one hand, the vast majority of respondents (69%) say that they have not changed the way they are designing or using conveyor systems in the last 12 months. Nor do they expect to make changes in the next 12 months. Another 27% said that they are not currently designing materials handling systems that use less conveyor than in the past. 

However, more than 45% of respondents indicated that they are likely to evaluate a change in their order fulfillment processes within the next two years. Additionally, a surprisingly high percentage (30%), indicated that they are using some type of high-density storage technology, such as a mini-load or pallet-handling AS/RS, or deep lane rack system to buffer work-in-process and orders ready for shipment. A surprising 27% of respondents said that they have implemented or are considering the implementation of a goods-to-person fulfillment solution. Those types of solutions are likely to impact the way that conveyor is used in a facility, or whether conveyor is used at all.

Those points were illustrated by some of the verbatim responses we received from readers.

  • “Our focus has shifted to improving processes and material flow,” wrote one respondent. “Conveyor may be necessary in our facility, but we are looking at alternate equipment so that the floor space can remain open.

  • “We are picking to a cart at some of our locations and only using conveyor for the takeaway process in packing,” wrote another.
  • “We are building greater intelligence into our order fulfillment and wave planning processes,” wrote a third.
  • “More automation and software,” or some variation, was a phrase that cropped up over and over in written responses.


About the Author

Bob Trebilcock
Executive Editor

Bob Trebilcock, executive editor, has covered materials handling, technology and supply chain topics for Modern Materials Handling since 1984. More recently, Trebilcock became editorial director of Supply Chain Management Review. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.


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