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European Conveyor Systems (ECS), together with their partners Gebhardt Fördertechnik of Germany, market a comprehensive range of material handling systems, including extensive carton/tote and pallets handling systems, goods lifts and Automatic Storage & Retrieval Systems. With production co-ordinated between ECS in Nottingham and Gebhardt in Sinsheim, near Heidelberg, the ECS/Gebhardt partnership is one of Europe’s leading sources of material handling systems. Within their combined range of conveyor systems ECS and Gebhardt offer probably the most effective zero pressure accumulation conveyor system available, which encompasses both their carton/tote handling conveyor and their pallet handling conveyor systems.

ECS and Gebhardt’s combined expertise is in supplying automated systems to customers in the UK and mainland Europe for use in such fields as high bay warehouses, cold stores, retail distribution centres, breweries and automotive parts centres. Their main field of operation is the warehousing, distribution and production environment, where they provide total solutions for order picking, sortation, kitting, assembly, storage and retrieval and so on, including cost effective PLC (Programmable Logic Controller) and Computer based control and software packages. They have carried out installations for many major companies, including Asda, B&Q, IKEA, Next. Avon Cosmetics, Claire’s Accessories and Garmin.

Bill Valentine, Sales Manager at European Conveyor Systems Ltd, spoke to Warehouse & Logistics News.

Warehouse & Logistics News – Bill, what does your role as Sales Manager involve day to day?

My main role is to interface with existing and potential customers, and develop solutions for them.

WLN – How long have you been at ECS, and what were you doing before that?

I joined in 2003. I come from an engineering background: I’ve been in the conveying and materials handling industry for over thirty years. I was previously with Logan Fabricom, another UK conveyor manufacturer.

WLN – Is European Conveyor Systems Ltd the lead company in the partnership in all your UK business? What happens elsewhere in Europe?

ECS and Gebhardt work together on many projects, but normally here in the UK ECS takes the lead. Gebhardt are represented worldwide, with key countries being Germany, the US, Poland and Austria.

We do our own prospecting in the UK and develop the resulting enquiries. We design the system and prepare the quotes and drawings, and then once it becomes a firm order we involve Gebhardt if appropriate.

WLN – Once a project goes live, how do you and Gebhardt work together?

When the order’s placed, again if appropriate, we send Gebhardt all the information to check and if necessary submit further drawings. Once the project’s signed off we (ECS) install the system along with controls. We also provide all relevant training, after sales and back up.

WLN – Where do you design your solutions for UK customers?

We have our own design and estimating offices in Nottingham.

WLN – Taking the two companies in turn, when was European Conveyor Systems founded, and who by? Who owns it now?

John Bower founded ECS in Nottingham in 1992. John still owns and runs the company as Managing Director.

WLN – When was Gebhardt Fördertechnik founded, and who by? Who owns it now?

Richard and Elfriede Gebhardt founded Gebhardt Maschinenbau in 1952, when their core activity was bulk handling, and the business changed its name to Gebhardt Fördertechnik GmbH in 1964, now a unit handling business. Always a family owned business, Fritz Gebhardt is the current owner.

WLN – When did the ECS/Gebhardt partnership start? What was the story behind it?

The ECS/Gebhardt partnership in its present form came into being in 1992, but the relationship between John and the Gebhardts started some time before that.

WLN – Where do you and Gebhardt rank in the global rankings?

Gebhardt’s equipment is widely regarded in the industry as the best quality equipment available, supported by European Conveyors’ range, expertise and experience, this makes us very well respected in the Industry.

WLN – Are there any formal ties between the two companies?

The agreement has been formalised with shareholdings linking the two companies.

WLN – Bill, how do you sum up the two companies’ offerings? How do they fit together?

European Conveyor Systems is a leading supplier of conveyors and conveyor systems within the UK and on the Continent, with the skills, experience and product range to handle large, complex contracts successfully. Gebhardt is one of Germany’s most respected companies in the field of materials handling. The Gebhardt product range complements ECS’s own equipment by providing sophisticated case handling conveyors, as well as an unrivalled range of pallet handling conveyors and other handling equipment and systems.

WLN – Can you talk us through the different types of products in your range? What kinds of operations are they aimed at?

Our range includes Series 200, 300, 400 and 500 conveyor systems. Series 200 is for general conveying systems for tote boxes and cartons weighing up to 25kg. Series 300 incorporates faster speeds and weights of up to 80kg, including sortation systems. Series 400 is used in production lines in industries such as electronics, ideal for handling such items as slave boards and stillages up to 500 kg. Series 500 pallet handling systems go up to 2000 kg. Gebhardt also supply goods lifts, ASRS (automated storage and retrieval) systems, satellite systems and more.

WLN – What pallet conveyors do you offer?

Focusing on Series 500 pallet conveyor systems, we can offer a complete range for handling all types of pallet. In the UK we have lots of different pallet types. Our pallet conveyors come in various types, in general terms – powered rollers, powered roller accumulation, chain conveyors, a range of different transfer types, also including vertical elevators and transfer cars.

WLN – What kinds of goods can the different pallet conveyor systems convey?

Pallet conveyors can carry palletised goods with loads of up to 2000 kg. The components in all our pallet conveyors are particularly hard wearing, with the emphasis on low noise, reliability and energy-efficient motors.

WLN – Can any of your systems be used for vehicle loading and unloading?

We can supply a range of vehicle loading systems, from telescopic belt conveyors to manual telescopic gravity-fed units and automatic pallet loading and unloading systems.

WLN – In non-technical terms, what is a “zero pressure accumulation conveyor system,” as referred to in our intro? How does it work, and what do you use it for?

It facilitates the accumulation of unit loads, totes, cartons and pallets without letting them touch. The ECS/Gebhardt units have simple low maintenance drive components and linkages, and use mechanical or electronic sensors to detect the unit load. The benefits of zero pressure systems are fewer drives are required, better control at merging and transfer points, prevention of jamming and jack-knifing of products, and less wear on system components.

WLN – When would you use a zero pressure accumulation system?

You normally use it when you are conveying unit loads between different processes and need a buffer, for example from a high bay warehouse to a despatch system.

WLN – Focusing on your pallet conveyors, what are the benefits of these systems?

They increase throughput, efficiency and safety; reduce fork lift truck movements, or even eliminate them; and reduce manpower requirements, allowing the client to reassign people elsewhere.

WLN – What kinds of businesses should consider pallet conveyors?

Any operation using this type of unit load, which has high levels of pallet movements, will find that traditional movements of goods with forklifts can be replaced by automated handling systems.

WLN – How long does it take to see a return on investment on these systems?

You can typically see a return within 24 months, depending on the system obviously.

WLN – Can you talk us through the controls and software packages that you offer?

Unless the client has a preference for specific electronic components, we’d normally use Rockwell or Siemens PLCs, but we can also accommodate clients’ own specs. These controls can either be stand-alone PLC or computer based, or interface with the client’s WMS. They can provide management information for the client, from simple human/machine interface to complex SCADA systems.

WLN – Do you supply individual items of hardware or software to other integrators as part of their solutions?

Normally our controls are supplied as part of our solutions.

WLN – If a customer solution calls for it, can you source equipment from other supplier?

Absolutely – when we evaluate the clients’ requirements, we identify the best solution whether our equipment or not, for example high-speed sortation equipment such as sliding shoe, tilt tray or cross belt.

WLN – Can you talk us through some of the major projects you have carried out?

We’ve provided high bay picking systems for such companies as Daimler Chrysler, Pfizer, Lakeland and CPG Logistics. More recent installations include Tobar, Game, Nisbets, Garmin and Cromwell Tools. We’ve also recently been awarded several major contracts, which we’re progressing but can’t announce yet.

WLN – Do you publish customer case studies? Do you have videos of your installations online?

Yes, we do – we publish some case studies on line at www.europeanconveyors.co.uk and the Gebhardt site linked to it. We have several videos available on YouTube.

WLN – Do you carry out the service and maintenance for your systems yourselves?

In the UK we offer service contracts for our systems, but many clients have their own maintenance staff, who we train as part of the installation programme. At the end of the installation we issue manuals in print and CDROM, and offer clients two or three maintenance visits per year depending on system usage. We can also provide clients with permanent staff on site if required.

WLN – Do you offer a consultancy service to evaluate whether clients’ existing materials handling systems are adequate for their needs?

Yes, we can offer this kind of consultancy up to a point as part of our initial evaluation.

WLN – Do you have a checklist for people to see whether they should be talking to you about a new system?

The tell-tale signs are inefficiencies in picking and packing, and log jams in their system. These are the typical problems we’re brought in to solve.

WLN – How easily can your systems be reconfigured as companies’ operations change and develop?

All our systems are modular in design and use expandable PLC or computer based control systems. A good proportion of our business is extending, modifying and sometimes relocating both our own systems and other suppliers’.

WLN – Are you members of any industry bodies or trade associations? Are you involved in developing industry standards for this equipment?

As corporate members of the Automated Material Handling Systems Association (AMHSA), we often have an input into developing standards.

WLN – How has the recession affected demands for your systems?

Some six to twelve months ago the market went quiet, but recently business has improved dramatically and we’ve attracted some major contracts in conjunction with Gebhardt. Difficult trading conditions can mean that clients look for systems to make them more efficient, which in turn can mean good business for materials handling companies like ourselves.

WLN – Finally, where do you see ECS and Gebhardt going from here?

We’re a strong partnership, and getting stronger. We’re continually looking for new markets, both in the UK and worldwide. We’re always looking to improve and extend our products and services, and achieve consistent high levels of quality that attract new clients and persuade existing ones to return to us.

European Conveyor Systems Limited

Tel: 0115 987 4363

www.europeanconveyors.co.uk

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