To most cabinet shop owners roller conveyors appear to be an idea only used in mass production. The conventional wisdom, however, is that roller conveyors increase shop efficiency by 20 percent.

Dead roller conveyors are not only place holders for parts to be moved between work stations but also mobile storage. They create order in the shop while optimizing the spaces between work stations. They avoid excessive walking by the workmen.

How to set up conveyors

Typically conveyors are 24 inches wide and 12 inches high. As such, the placement of parts from the machine to the conveyor satisfies ergonomics. At a maximum loading of 40 (3/4- inch) sheets high, no part is thus stacked higher than 42 inches off the floor. This ensures good visibility in the shop without any material stacks obstructing the view.

Parts are normally placed on a spoilboard and effortlessly moved on the conveyor system. Machines are typically straddled by transfer carts which run at right angles between conveyor lines. This arrangement creates a shunting yard, allowing stacks of material to flow wherever the next process has to take place.

Having completed parts on the conveyor allows for assembly to take place when an order is nearer to install time by using the storage aspect of the conveyor system. Parts for one order can be shunted aside to allow parts for a more urgent order to be processed.

Fixed work stations

A side effect of employing roller conveyors is that it demands dedicated and fixed work stations. While having fixed work stations may seem constricting in terms of space requirements, the trick is to keep the forklift to those areas of the shop where it is really useful. Not only does a fork lift require a large amount of space, it is also a hazard to machines and completed work.

A roller conveyor system can be strategically placed and kept to a minimum. As such the investment is minor. Think of a 20 percent increase of efficiency in a $1 million shop with a direct labor component of, say, 20 percent or $200,000, equating to a gain of $40,000 over the course of a year or $3,333 per month. A conveyor system for such a shop will cost in the order of $6,000 to $8,000. Wow, what a great investment that is! At worst this represents a return on investment (ROI) of 2.4 months.

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