As e-commerce continues to shake up retailing like never before over so short a time, the undisrupted time to market throughout the year, even at peak periods, is a key competitive advantage and the main player in that scenario, which does not brook delivery times beyond 24 hours, is often the fast sortation conveyor. Such is the importance of a slick logistics model, it would be no exaggeration to say that a retailer’s top priority is to have complete confidence in their delivery partner’s capacity during peak times.

There are, of course, many different types of sortation conveyors, designed to handle specific products, like hanging garments, shoe sorters and assorted parcels. If only concerned with highly specific items like clothing then the selection process is less complicated than it would be if the need is to handle a wider variety of disparate products. This is where it is important to deal with the larger conveyor houses with a wide portfolio of sorters who, like Vanriet, do all the design, engineering, electrical installation and build in one system, thus shortening delivery times from months to weeks. The big conveyor automation houses will also have their own consultancy and software expertise, and the value of consultancy, as Swisslog points out, cannot be stressed enough. Some distribution businesses may have a multi-channel distribution model, where the bulk of their despatches is in part or full pallet loads directly to shops and relatively small amounts of single packages direct to consumers’ homes or their designated pick up points. Where that is the case, in the early stages of e-commerce deliveries it may not be necessary to invest in high speed sortation conveyors. If space permits, FMH Conveyors could install a simple, flexible conveyor system, in makeshift sort and distribution centres that could be set up quickly, modified easily and relocated as required. This ability to reuse the conveyors at alternative locations overcomes the reluctance to invest heavily in a market that could prove to be a temporary operation.

Although a critical issue, especially in multi-million pound conveyor installations, maintenance is often neglected. The big schemes, like Hermes’ super parcel hub at Rugby, capable of sorting 40,000 items an hour on two Beumer sorters, would sensibly have their own, in-house trained maintenance engineers or on-site engineers supplied by the conveyor companies. Any prolonged downtime on just one of the sorters would be expensively vexatious.

Smaller conveyor schemes, however, should not be neglected over maintenance issues any the less. Ensure that only good technicians are hired. Keep a safety stock of all critical and long lead time conveyor parts on hand. Install a preventive maintenance scheme, bearing in mind that different parts require different levels of preventive care. Stay updated on what conveyor parts are obsolete and no longer being made. With due care and respect for regular maintenance it will be possible to extend a conveyor’s life well beyond its manufacturer’s claims.