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Week of 17 February 2020: Conveyors are transportation, too!

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Throughout my career, I have seen lots of goods moved within many facilities' sites.

Back in the day, at Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati, there were a number of semi-trucks employed to move finished goods from the cake mix plant to the Murray Road warehouse, a distance of about a mile. Finally, an overhead conveyor was constructed, covering several city blocks, which took these trucks off the road, reducing traffic and costs.

Many years ago, a fifth runway was added to the Atlanta Airport. This project required 20 million cubic yards of fill. To meet the timetable, the contractors would have to move 20,000 cubic yards of material every hour, every day to keep on schedule. One of the challenges was that the borrow material was located 5.5 miles away. It was calculated that if dump trucks were used it would take 400 round trips per hour to move this material. So, they built a 5.5-mile-long conveyor, saving 16.5 million highway trips by dump truck. This conveyor moved one cubic yard of material per second. Called "the most important runway in America" when it opened in 2006, after two months it reduced flight delays at the airport--flight delays that rippled through North America--by 76%.

Internal to converting plants, I have seen autonomous buggies carrying finished goods from the end of the production lines to the warehouses for over forty years. Eliminates fork trucks, their costs and the natural danger they engender.

Recently, I have observed containerboard mills building box plants at the end of the paper machines. This is a tremendous cost savings, not only in transportation but in box manufacturing. For if you don't have to size rolls to fit into over-the-road trucks, you can install corrugating lines of unprecedented width.

Of course, tissue has long been converted on mill sites. It is just too bulky to move in parent roll form economically (although some are forced to do so).

What I, and the industry, are eagerly awaiting is the widespread use of conveyors, autonomous buggies, or some such device to load trucks.

A containerboard mill I was involved with about a decade ago has a completely automated conveyor and warehouse system to take finished rolls from the winder and place them in onsite storage. This system also retrieves them. However, the automated retrieval stops forty feet short of the truck docks. For this final distance, a clamp truck must pick up the roll, turn 180 degrees, place the roll in the truck and then reverse the process to get the next roll. For all the other glorious automation in this mill, this last forty feet is painful to watch.

For now, we must wait for the clever designers and their solutions. In the meantime, if you have a repetitive motion transportation requirement inside your facility, investigate the alternatives, there just may be one that makes economic sense for you.

Don't forget safety, either. Eliminating roving motive equipment eliminates potential accidents.

Be safe and we will talk next week.


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