Want to install a vertical reciprocating conveyor (VRC) in a Maryland warehouse or distribution center? Forget it. It's now illegal.
In a controversial move, the state has reclassified the conveyors under a different subset of safety codes that govern the operations of freight elevators. Yet people never ride the systems, and the equipment meets appropriate safety standards as long as it's been properly installed and maintained, according to material handling interests.
The Maryland measure effectively bars the installation of VRCs, which are used to raise and lower products and materials from one level of a floor, mezzanine, or module to another. The state in January set strict regulations on VRC installations following an accident involving the equipment. The regulations make most current systems illegal to install in Maryland and require new VRC equipment to meet the same stringent requirements as freight elevators. Manufacturers argue that current system designs cannot be easily changed to meet the new requirements, creating costly and unnecessary burdens for end users, conveyor manufacturers, material handling dealers, and installation/service companies.
Traditionally, a VRC has fallen under a specific code set by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), a standards-setting organization. Virtually every state enforces the ASME standards in writing regulations governing the design, implementation, and inspection of mechanical installations. Each code is identified by a number that applies to a particular technology; for example, one section covers freight elevators, while another covers conveyors.
Although other states are considering similar measures, it is believed that none has moved as aggressively as Maryland. Conveyor manufacturers fear that such strict regulations will spread to other states and that other vertical technologies including spiral conveyors, vertical shuttles, inclines, and vertical lift modules, may eventually fall under the elevator codes.
Ray Niemeyer, code specialists/national accounts for Milwaukee-based PFlow, the nation's largest provider of vertical reciprocating conveyors, said the changes in Maryland go far beyond what is needed to ensure safety. In addition, installation and repairs may have to be done by licensed elevator maintenance companies instead of by material handling technicians and system integrators, Niemeyer said. Elevator companies must also perform annual inspections, he added.
Although the elevator industry has lobbied for these and other new regulations under the guise of safety, its real goal is to increase its business base, Niemeyer told the Conveyor & Sortation Systems product section of MHI during the association's spring meeting this week in Charlotte, N.C.
The Conveyor & Sortation industry group is lobbying to reverse the new regulations and to fight proposals for tougher regulations in other states. The group says it will work with state agencies to assure safety. However, they want the codes to reflect the type of equipment that they actually are.