Accelerating e-commerce volumes are pushing retailers, e-commerce fulfillment companies, and others to get orders out the door faster than ever before, and that often means implementing new or enhanced conveyor systems in their DCs to help speed and streamline fulfillment. Today’s fast pace of business is leaving little time for lengthy, complex equipment installations, however, increasing the need for out-of-the-box solutions that can reduce prep time and allow end-users to respond to accelerating volumes quickly.
“What we’re seeing in the market is a need to get systems ramped up very quickly,” explains Tim Kraus, product manager at conveyance and parcel automation solutions company Intralox, which serves customers in a range of industries, including logistics, food, and consumer packaged goods. “There’s a real focus on getting these systems designed, installed, and running live as quickly as possible.”
It’s a tall order, but the conveyor industry is stepping up with products, technologies, and other solutions designed to do just that. Modex 2022, the logistics and material handling industry trade show held in Atlanta this spring, provided the backdrop for companies to showcase some of their newest offerings, which include everything from pre-engineered control systems to faster product delivery platforms—all of which are aimed at providing low-hassle, high-value solutions for tackling those growing e-commerce demands.
Here’s a look at some time-saving solutions companies were touting in Atlanta earlier this year.
Intralox is offering up its pre-engineered, pre-wired advanced sorter controls (ASC) as one option for meeting accelerating demand in short order. The machine control solution is available with the company’s e-commerce package sorters, which are designed to convey a variety of package types, including polybags, cartons, boxes, and large or irregular-shaped items. The pre-engineered control system eliminates the need for a systems integrator to design and install a complex system from scratch; instead, the integrator can perform a few simple configuration steps—via an interface provided with the ASC—so that the sorter is up and running immediately. The ASC also includes a built-in field bus so integrators can add devices and functionality to a system—without the extra cost, risk, and time traditionally associated with such projects.
The solution not only reduces project development time but also accelerates the go-live schedule for the end-customer, according to Kraus, who says the ASC program represents a growing trend in material handling system design.
“Anything you can do in the factory, before the system ships, to make it more plug-and-play and reduce the need for high-skilled labor is extremely valuable [from a scheduling standpoint]—many companies have focused in that direction,” Kraus explains. “With e-commerce and the need to ramp up facilities really quickly, that trend has just accelerated.”
Kraus says the underlying technology in the company’s ASC is not new; the difference is in providing a ready-to-go packaged solution.
“This provides some real value in terms of startup time and reduced risk for the systems integrator and the end-user,” he explains. “It dramatically reduces engineering [and] installation—and it gets the sorter up and running really quickly.”
Swiss material handling solutions provider Interroll Worldwide Group, which makes products for unit-load handling systems, internal logistics, and automation, is emphasizing the benefits of plug-and-play solutions via its “platform” modules, which offer pre-engineered conveyance systems that can provide a “more tailored mass approach” to the market, according to Barry Miller, the company’s vice president of sales and service for the United States. As one example, Interroll’s modular conveyor platform (MCP) comes in three standard widths, with a choice of energy-efficient drive solutions that allow users to combine pieces and parts to create a system that fits their needs. The modules are pre-assembled, which makes on-site installation faster and easier than traditional systems, Miller adds. The MCP includes independently adjustable side guides, adjustable supports, and integrated electrical conduits that can accommodate add-on components, for instance. Adjustability allows end-users to expand the system to meet future needs.
“Everyone wants something special and unique,” Miller explains, adding that Interroll’s customers are looking for a swift installation as well, especially for e-commerce–related projects. The platform approach allows the company to address those conflicting demands and get projects off the ground quickly, he says.
Some companies are focused on a more back-to-basics approach to helping customers get conveyor projects done quickly: speeding the delivery process. Arkansas-based Hytrol Conveyor has introduced its Preferred Delivery Program (PDP), an effort designed to get its low-voltage E24 conveyor system into customers’ hands faster, according to Mitch Smith, the company’s vice president of business development. The 24-volt conveyor system deploys quickly and is a good solution for both established and startup e-commerce businesses, which have been strong growth sectors, along with parcel and third-party logistics service providers, Smith adds. The Jonesboro, Arkansas-based company added a second manufacturing facility in Fort Smith, Arkansas, last January, allowing it to expand the E24 line and speed manufacturing and shipping processes. A portion of the E24 products are part of the program, with more to be added in the future.
“The new facility is really helping our company meet growth demands—especially [those] driven by e-commerce business,” Smith says, emphasizing customers’ desire for shorter project timeframes over the past two years in particular. “This specialized delivery program is a way [for us] to offer our popular E24 products to customers that need equipment fast.”
Hytrol isn’t alone. Earlier this year, Intralox expanded its U.S. operations with a 310,000-square-foot facility at Tradepoint Atlantic, a 3,000-acre logistics center in Baltimore County, Maryland. The facility increases Intralox’s East Coast footprint by 70% and represents the Louisiana-based company’s third expansion in the region over the past three years. The growth is being driven by logistics industry demand, specifically the need for systems tailored to parcel, postal, e-commerce, and distribution customers, according to the company.
Industry leaders say they expect consumer buying habits and labor market forces will sustain those trends.
“The pandemic effect has changed the math, and it’s much easier to justify automation,” especially in last-mile facilities, Kraus says. “Part of that is increased order volume, and the other part is reduced availability of labor. Those two effects have increased demand, absolutely.”