CI Logistics is a UK based, market-leading supplier and manufacturer of quality materials handling and storage systems. CI supplies conveyor equipment internationally, specialising in overhead conveyors, floor conveyors, garment conveyors and storage systems, together with the necessary electrical controls. CI also has an in-house design and build service, enabling them to provide innovative solutions to any materials handling challenge.

Recent achievements include a major materials handling contract for Diageo’s £10m cooperage facility at Cambus in Clackmannanshire, Glasgow, which is due for completion this summer. They have also installed a heavy duty overhead conveyor in JCB’s paint facility and helped CMK (Treatments) increase the capacity of its Birmingham powder coating plant with a new power and free conveyor. Gary Bale, Managing Director of CI Logistics, spoke to Warehouse & Logistics News.

Warehouse & Logistics News – Gary, in this interview we’re going to focus on your overhead conveyors. But first of all, by way of background, where does the name CI Logistics come from?

The original business Conveyors International was bought by Portec Rail Products 12 years ago, and since then the name has changed several times.

WLN – Where does the word ‘logistics’ come in?

We use the term logistics because our solutions deliver items to places where they are needed, when they are required, which is what logistics is all about.

WLN – What proportion of your conveyor systems are overhead?

Overhead conveyors have been the biggest proportion of our business as long as I can remember, and are quite stable at around 35%.

WLN – What does your role as MD involve? Do you personally play a part in developing customer solutions?

I’m ultimately answerable for all areas of the business including engineering, accounts, production and sales. I’ve spent my whole career in conveyors: I enjoy working with customers and wouldn’t want anything different.

WLN – Looking specifically at overhead conveyors now, there are many different types of overhead systems: can you explain the differences between them?

There are four different types, power chain or monorail; power and free conveyors; electrified monorail systems; and basic ‘free’ conveyors. Power chain, or monorail, is a continuous chain, with product hung from it. Power and free conveyors use a monorail with a trolley system below it, and allow products to divert to different stations where they can stop while everything else is moving.

Think of a Hornby Double O railway! The third type, an electrified monorail system, is a motorised trolley with an inbuilt drive: the individual trolleys each have an inbuilt motor and the track is coupled to a busbar. This is high spec engineering. The final type, basic ‘free’ systems involve a track with trolleys manually pushed around.

WLN – By overhead, do you mean these systems work at height?

Overhead conveyors do normally run up above the ground, but can also be put into the ground and inverted on towlines to tow bogies.

WLN – What parameters define which type of overhead conveyor is most suitable?

The deciding factors are the product weight; the dimensions of the products; and the process requirement – is it going to a pre-treatment plant, a curing oven and so on? The size of the load is massively important: these systems can carry up to 10 tonnes on one individual set of trolleys.

WLN – Which industries would benefit from having one of your overhead conveyor systems?

Three key areas for us are paint and powder, manufacturing and assembly lines, and warehousing and logistics. Paint and powder primarily involves surface finishing, where you’re painting, curing and pre-treating products. These are automated processes, where manual handling must be avoided, particularly in the production of parts of cars and white goods.

For manufacturing and assembly lines in general, you’re normally looking at ‘power and free’ or power conveyors. Again, this includes the automotive industry. For a leading car manufacturer we installed a new line over this Easter just gone. In warehousing and logistics operations, major uses for overhead conveyors are moving empty cartons and recycling waste packaging.

WLN – What are the steps in designing a tailored overhead conveyor solution for a client?

The process starts with understanding the client’s needs and the processes their product goes through. Our systems are modular, and can incorporate any configuration or routing. They can be horizontal or vertical: we take it from there.

WLN – How much can your standard equipment be tailored for a particular client?

The basic conveyor system is much the same every time. It includes chain, track, bends, drive units, tension and lubricators, and is essentially just like a train set. The variance is in what you carry, the pitch you carry it at and the speed you run. We use the same standard components in different configurations: the only change is how the conveyor is supported and the safety precautions that are needed. Our conveyors normally outlive the lifespan of the application, say 10-12 years.

WLN – Where do you develop and manufacture your conveyors and other products?

All development happens on site in Leicester. We have an extensive in house design department, which incorporates our controls division. We also have an arrangement with an external manufacturing partner.

WLN – We last spoke to you a year ago. What’s changed since then in the industry overall, and in your business?

We bounced back after 2009, when business in general slowed, and had a great 2010. There’s still nervousness in the economy, borne out by many decision makers in Europe and the UK being cagey. You can’t be sure when confidence will return, but we hope to see the 2011 Budget and the new tax year having a positive effect in the next two to three months.

WLN – Can you tell us about some of your previous major UK installations? Do you publish case studies?

As a business we’ve been making overhead conveyors since 1982. Over the years our most memorable projects include Hepworth Clay Products at Coalville, Leicester; Caterpillar UK’s towline; installations for BOC, Quinn Radiators and Linde forktrucks, the last two both in Wales; and the Diageo, JCB and CMK  projects mentioned in the introduction. We have a lot of case studies which are publicly available, including Quinn, BOC and CMK.

WLN – Are they available on the internet?

Most case studies I’ve mentioned are on our web site. We’re making use of the internet to a full extent, as our main marketing tool. We’re running various campaigns online, including pay per click, SEO and taking the digital media route as far as possible.

WLN – Which countries outside the UK do you supply your conveyors to? Can you tell us about any overseas projects you’ve been involved in?

We have various customers in Scandinavia, in Norway and Finland, in the wood industry and in household structural products. In North America we have a distributor network covering the USA; and we’re building our business in Brazil, where we currently supply conveyors for use in paint finishing of car bumpers. CI Logistics has a small but highly effective set of agents throughout the world, representing us to a global audience.

WLN – What kinds of improvements in warehouse efficiency, and what order of savings in time and money can people achieve with your systems? How long does it take to see a return?

The beauty of conveyors is they reduce manpower, improve productivity and take out travel time. One of the key factors in using them is to reduce or eliminate manual handling, where there are health and safety considerations. These systems are highly tailored to each industry and each customer, but the available figures for savings in general are extremely impressive and convincing when it comes to decisions about capital expenditure programmes, and on larger systems you can generally see a return anywhere from 12-24 months.

WLN – Do you supply your equipment to other conveyor integrators who are fitting out large projects? Are there any companies you have regular working partnerships with?

We supply various integrators with overhead conveyors, mainly for use in carrying cardboard, either empty boxes to picking areas or cardboard waste for recycling. We’re happy to supply everyone.

WLN – Do you provide all the support services for an installation, including electricals and building services?

We offer a full turnkey package, including controls, electricals and civils as required – for example, where we’re putting towlines in pits we do all groundwork, concrete pouring and so on, and have no problem taking on the role of main contractor.

WLN – You also manufacture your own electrical control systems. What difference does that make to the quality of the final conveyor system?

We design and manufacture our own control panels and software in house, bespoke to each client, and don’t rely on outside suppliers. Our controls can fully integrate into WMS and ERP systems.

WLN – How long does it take from implementation to go live, with a new system?

Lead times vary massively depending on the project: Our automotive contract is now into its fourth month, Diageo in its thirteenth month. Both are now near completion.

WLN – Do you offer service and support?

We offer a full package of service and support. Our service engineers offer a 24 hour response on both mechanical and electrical problems, from our base in Leicester. For more remote installations, we would install modem links to view the software and see if the system needs tweaking.

WLN – How much routine inspection and maintenance do these systems need?

We recommend servicing at least twice a year.

WLN – You use the tagline ‘Conveying Innovation.’ Can you tell me about any particularly innovative solutions you’ve designed?

One of our installations which is at the top end in terms of innovation is our paint facility for Linde forklifts, carrying 15 tonne components overhead. These are true overhead conveyors; we have provided an electrified monorail/crane system. We’ve also provided a towline system for Caterpillar at Hinckley, Leicestershire, an assembly plant for earthmoving vehicles. It is a 20-station
towline, covering 100 metres, which is unique.

WLN – What kind of volume throughputs are overhead conveyors used for?

It varies according to the sector and the application: but this could range from an automotive chassis welding cell loading a paintline conveyor one every minute to a plant assembling aircraft components & delivering one completed assembly every 24 hours.

WLN – In the current economic climate, I imagine some companies may find it hard to sanction capital expenditure sign off. Do you offer extended payment or finance options to help them?

We try and accommodate our customers as far as we can: we work with a finance house to provide a tailored leasing facility, which helps customers cope with their financial restrictions.

WLN – Have you got any other major contracts in the pipeline?

We’ve talked about Diageo and the overhead conveyors, and the car manufacturer with the towline. We have also been busy with other UK automotive and aerospace contracts. On the other side of the business, parcels and packaging and bespoke distribution, and we’re doing a lot of work in e-fulfilment.

WLN – Finally, where do you see CI Logistics going from here?

Our vision for the business is to continue to supply our existing customers, but also look at other industries to break into, such as food and drink. We want to grow, if not organically then by acquisition.

We like a challenge: if you really want something out of the ordinary, as well as the more mainstream industrial applications for our solutions that we’ve been talking about, we built a conveyor for carrying lollipops for the 2005 version of the film Charlie & The Chocolate Factory. You can see the conveyor right at the beginning, in the opening scene with Johnny Depp. At the other extreme, we have also designed rotating conveyor systems for two-tonne marine diesel engines, to include the sump system on the bottom and turbos on the top. So if anyone reading this has any material handling problems which they think conveyors might help solve, we’d be delighted to hear from you!

CI Logistics

Tel: 0116 276 1691

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