Our customer, McKay Books, is located in Knoxville, Tennessee and contacted WNCMH because they needed help optimizing their retail store and sorting operations. They were operating with an unreliable conveyor system that had 12 end-points and worked on a push-button request system that left items queued rather than constantly distributed. Once an item was requested, the items were distributed at random to one of the 12 stations without a system in place for determining which. The system also featured faulty mechanical parts that required frequent maintenance and much downtime.
As always, our journey with this customer started with a personal visit to the worksite and a thorough assessment of their situation, equipment, and needs. We worked closely with the associates who would actually be using the equipment to understand their needs and get their input on what they felt would work best for them given their extended experience with the current, flawed, system. One major issue that the associates had was that a piece of equipment, the photo eyes, were placed directly on the conveyor frame and often got knocked out of alignment when a bin was removed, resulting in an extended period of downtime in which they had to be realigned. To solve this problem, the new system is designed so that the photo eyes are either embedded into the frame or placed below the conveyor surface so that they cannot be bumped or hit.
After working through a handful of revisions with management for the system, we decided to go with a low-maintenance automated conveyor system. Our solution is designed to work in 30-inch zones with photo eyes located in each zone to constantly track packages as they convey through the system. The new system is far more energy-efficient, it’s zones only run when there are materials that need to be conveyed across them. That allows the system to selectively run sections, whereas in the old system the entire conveyor was running constantly. The system can hold up to 72 packages at once. We’ve also increased the number of photo eyes from 6 to 66 and constantly know when there are packages that need to be moved, when the system is full, and when we need to deliver a package automatically to an individual workstation based on the number of packages at each. The system also supports turning stations on or off based on work-flow; the previous system delivered packages to all 12 stations randomly at all times.